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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 May 2007, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
Castro fails to appear on May Day
Cuban boy waves flag at parade
The crowds thought their ailing leader might appear
Cuba's leader Fidel Castro has failed to appear at Havana's annual May Day parade, fuelling speculation about the state of his health.

The 80-year-old is suffering from an intestinal ailment and has not been seen in public since he handed power to his brother Raul nine months ago.

On Sunday, Bolivia's President Evo Morales said he believed that 1 May would mark Mr Castro's return to power.

But there was no sign of the leader as the parade got underway.

Cuba's main union leader, Salvador Valdes, said the entire nation hoped Mr Castro would be well again soon.

"I know I express the unanimous feeling of our people when I send the most fervent wishes for recovery to he who has not only been with us on days like this but has guided us with his proverbial wisdom for more than 50 years," Mr Valdes said in an address at Revolution Square.

I had hoped to see him but, even though he is not here, he is still with us
Zoraida Gonzalez
Castro supporter
The square itself - packed with T-shirted Cubans - was adorned with banners and posters of socialist heroes, the BBC's Stephen Gibbs reports.

A large podium was erected for senior Cuban government figures and visiting dignitaries.

Newspaper editorial

It is thought to be only the third time Mr Castro has missed May Day in 48 years of rule and his continued non-appearance in public raises questions about what his role in the governing of Cuba might be, our correspondent says.

But some were prepared to be patient.

"I had hoped to see him but, even though he is not here, he is still with us. The important thing is that he gets better," Zoraida Gonzalez, a 73-year-old retiree, told the Reuters news agency.

Instead of appearing, Mr Castro put his name to an editorial in Cuba's main communist daily paper, calling on participants in the march to protest against the release on bail of the Cuban exiled militant Luis Posada Carriles in the US.

He is accused by Cuba and Venezuela of responsibility for the downing of a Cuban airliner in the 1970s, in which 76 people died.




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