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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 June 2007, 00:10 GMT 01:10 UK
Castro near recovery, says Chavez
Fidel Castro (l) and Hugo Chavez (r) in January 2007
Castro has made an "almost complete recovery", Chavez said
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said his Cuban counterpart, Fidel Castro, is almost fully recovered after undergoing intestinal surgery.

He said the 80-year-old Cuban leader was "cruising ahead full-speed [but] is not ready to get back on the mound yet", making a reference to baseball.

Mr Castro's intestinal ailment has prevented him from making a public appearance for more than 10 months.

The visiting Venezuelan head has also met acting Cuban leader, Raul Castro.

Oil and doctors

Speaking after a six-hour private meeting with Fidel Castro, President Chavez said: "I can tell you that he has recovered his fastball of 90 miles an hour."

President Castro "has his uniform hanging near him and he's peeking at it but he's still warming up his arm," Mr Chavez told a group of government leaders and students.

"He's not yet ready to take the diamond," he said, referring to the baseball field.

He said that Mr Castro's "almost complete recovery" gives him "a sensation of relief, a sensation of much joy and optimism".

BBC correspondent in Havana, Stephen Gibbs, said senior figures in the Cuban government had taken every opportunity to hug, pat on the back and generally make Cuba's key ally feel among friends.

"We are there for Cuba," Mr Chavez declared, promising further cooperation between the two countries.

Venezuela provides Cuba with 100,000 barrels of oil a day at subsidised prices.

In return Cuba sends Venezuela thousands of doctors, who work in the most deprived areas.

President Chavez said that Venezuela intended to build a gas plant in Cuba.

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