Castro quits after half a century

FIDEL Castro today resigned as Cuba's leader after nearly a half-century.In a letter, the 81 year-old said he would not be accepting a new term as president when the newly elected parliament meets for the first time on Sunday.

FIDEL Castro today resigned as Cuba's leader after nearly a half-century.

In a letter, the 81 year-old said he would not be accepting a new term as president when the newly elected parliament meets for the first time on Sunday.

Castro's 76-year-old brother Raul is likely to succeed him as president.

The Castro has ruled Cuba unchallenged. He was hated by the United States - whose secret service more than once tried to assassinate him - and was at the centre of the Cuban missile crisis which brought the US and the Soviet Union to the very brink of nuclear war.

The world held its breath for 12 unbearably tense days in October 1962 after President John F Kennedy discovered that Kremlin leader Nikita Khruschev was placing nuclear missile installations on the island.

The crisis - probably the most perilous time of the entire Cold War - was abated only when Khruschev backed down and said the installations would be dismantled.

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When Castro, and his Marxist revolutionary friends, seized power in 1959, he proceeded to nationalise all American property, leading to relentless hostility towards him from the United States.

The CIA tried all manner of ways to assassinate him, including a bizarre exploding cigar, designed to detonate when Castro puffed on it, and booby-trapped seashells in spots where he used to enjoy diving.

In 1961, the Americans tried to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, but the Cubans successfully fought them off.

Meanwhile, the Cuban economy was being propped up by the Soviet Union - a further source of friction between Cuba and the United States - with the Kremlin purchasing vast amounts of sugar and supplying Castro with economic and military aid.

But the collapse of communism and the destruction of the Soviet Union reduced Cuba to a dire economic state and left Castro a diminished international figure.

Even so, he remained unchallenged. But in July 2006, ill health caused him to delegate virtually all his duties to his brother, Raul.

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