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Last Updated: Monday, 21 January 2008, 00:07 GMT
Cubans vote for new parliament

Migdalia Garcia, president of polling station No 1, casts the ballot on behalf of Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro voted using a special ballot supplied by election officials
Polls have closed in Cuba where people have been voting to choose members of a new National Assembly or parliament.

Only one person is standing per seat, including ailing leader Fidel Castro, even though he has not been seen in public for almost a year-and-a-half.

His brother, acting leader Raul Castro, said the new chamber would meet on 24 February, when it is expected to decide whether Fidel will remain president.

There are 614 candidates contesting 614 seats.

Counting of the votes has begun, but the BBC's Michael Voss in Havana says the results are a forgone conclusion.

The only real question is over voter turnout, which has always been more than 95% in previous elections, our correspondent adds.

'Great decisions'

Raul Castro was the first to cast his ballot when polls near Havana's Plaza of the Revolution opened. He would not say if his brother plans to remain as head of state or retire permanently.

"We have to face different situations and great decisions," he told AP news agency.

Fidel Castro said in a statement read on state television that he had voted, using a special ballot supplied by election officials.

Our correspondent says the vote has been a low-key affair in this one-party state.

But with an ageing leadership, Cuba's Communist Party has encouraged younger people to become involved.

Almost two-thirds of the candidates are standing for the first time, the majority of them are under 50 years old.

The new National Assembly has 45 days to meet to select the country's president and a new Council of State.

But Raul Castro, quoted by Spanish news agency Efe, said 24 February had been chosen because it was the anniversary of the proclaiming of the constitution and the beginning of Cuba's 1895 war of independence.

Only then will it become apparent whether 81-year-old Fidel Castro intends to remain as head of state or retire and continue in his current role of elder statesman.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Cubans cast their vote



SEE ALSO
Castro 'unfit to speak publicly'
16 Jan 08 |  Americas
Castro 'ready to return' - Lula
16 Jan 08 |  Americas
After Castro
06 Apr 06 |  Crossing Continents
Castro 'well enough for election'
25 Dec 07 |  Americas

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