Latin America & Caribbean

Cuba marks 50th anniversary of Bay of Pigs invasion

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Media captionBBC's Michael Voss says it was the largest military parade held in Cuba for decades

Cuba has held one of its largest military parades in decades, to mark the 50th anniversary of the failed CIA-led invasion at the Bay of Pigs.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans marched in Havana to celebrate the occasion, seen as a triumph over the US.

A key Communist Party congress, which is expected to back moves towards market reform, is also taking place.

President Raul Castro has said Cuba must shrink the state and encourage private enterprise to save socialism.

"The confidence and the united majority of Cubans have been tested, with regard to the party and the revolution," Raul Castro said, opening the gathering.

"It is a unity that is not without differences of opinion."

The parade and Congress also celebrate 50 years from when Fidel Castro proclaimed that his was a socialist revolution, rather than a democratic one.

Chanting slogans

In 1961, Cuban exile groups trained and backed by the American CIA came ashore at the Bay of Pigs, 100 miles (160 km) southeast of Havana, in an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro.

Image caption Raul Castro, dressed in military fatigues, waved to crowds

Tens of thousands of troops and citizens were rallied by Mr Castro to repel them, and two days later the Cubans declared victory.

To mark the anniversary, thousands of soldiers in Havana marched through sprawling Revolution Plaza, according to Associated Press news agency.

They were followed by hundreds of thousands of civilians, waving flags and chanting slogans.

"It is a really good party," said Anabis Fernandez, a 54-year-old employee at a Havana sports facility who was taking part in the marches.

"There are a lot of people here and it's very well organised."

One woman chanted: "Long live Fidel! Long live Raul! Long live the Communist Party of Cuba!"

Raul Castro, the former head of Cuba's armed forces, donned military fatigues for the occasion. However, there was no sign of his brother, ex-President Fidel Castro, who is now 84 years old.

The four-day party congress is expected to see 1,000 delegates back all or part of a package of nearly 300 reforms.

Mixed emotions

The BBC's Michael Voss in Havana says Cubans are looking forward to the event with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety.

He says the agenda includes allowing limited self-employment and small businesses.

But other proposals include doing away with universal subsidies such as food rationing and laying off workers at overstaffed state enterprises, he adds.

Delegates at the congress are also expected to vote in new party leaders after Fidel Castro's announcement last month that he is no longer first secretary.

Our correspondent says this is likely to be the last congress with the ageing generation which led the revolution still in charge.

Raul Castro, 79, officially took over presidency from his brother in 2008.