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Thursday, 7 September, 2000, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Castro disarms summit with joke
Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro: From comedian ...
Cuban President Fidel Castro was expected to deliver a fiery blast to delegates at the UN Millennium Summit on Wednesday, but first he began with a comedy moment.

The bearded leader, famed for his day-long speeches stepped onto the podium at UN headquarters in New York knowing that five minutes later, a yellow light would illuminate, signalling his allotted time was over.

Fidel Castro
... to castigator
World leaders preceding the 74-year-old political veteran had crammed appeals for world peace; an end to arms in space; international dialogue and tolerance between nations into their 300 seconds.

President Castro unfurled a huge white handkerchief and gently covered the indicator.

Laughter among the greatest ever gathering of world leaders soon died down as the orator launched into his speech.

'Chaos rules'

Waving his finger he accused wealthy countries of frittering billions of dollars every day and monopolising power at the expense of poorer ones.

Anti-Castro demonstrators
Anti-Castro demonstrators were not won over by UN theatrics
"Chaos rules in our world," he said. "Blind laws are offered like divine norms that would bring peace, order, well-being and the security our planet so badly needs."

He did not mention his traditional bogeyman, the US, by name but did accuse a "hegemonic superpower" of manipulating an "abusive and unfair order ... to try to decide everything itself".

Punchline

But if the gathered monarchs, presidents and prime ministers cast a thought to their watches, they need not have worried.

Exactly five minutes after he began speaking, President Castro stopped, removed his handkerchief and stepped down.

Once more, hearty laughter filled the usually sombre auditorium in recognition of the skill of a figure unique among his peers.

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