Latin America & Caribbean

Fidel Castro death: Cuba holds huge rally in Havana

People gather at Revolution Square to pay homage to late Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in Havana, on November 29, 2016. Image copyright AP
Image caption Thousands gathered in Revolution Square

A mass rally honouring the late Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro has filled Revolution Square in Havana.

The gathering began with the national anthem and ended with a tribute from Castro's brother Raul.

It was attended by a number of world leaders - but some countries sent lower-level officials.

Fidel Castro, who came to power in 1959, died on Friday, aged 90. His ashes will be taken to the eastern city of Santiago later on Wednesday.

Opinion on Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba as a one-party state for almost half a century, remains divided.

Supporters say he returned Cuba to the people and praise him for some of his social programmes, such as public health and education.

But critics call him a dictator, who led a government that did not tolerate opposition and dissent.

This division led to some countries. such as the US, sending lower-ranking emissaries. However, allies including left-wing Latin American leaders were among those attending the ceremony in Revolution Square, where Cubans once gathered to listen to Fidel Castro's fiery speeches.

Attendance at the commemorative event reflects this division.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, centre, joined Cuban President Raul Castro for the rally

On Tuesday, the crowd chanted "long live the revolution!" and "Fidel! Fidel!" as the rally got under way.

President Raul Castro closed the rally, referring to his brother Fidel as the leader of a revolution "for the humble, and by the humble".

Greece's left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was among those who addressed the crowd. The presidents of Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Panama, South Africa and Zimbabwe also attended.

In his speech, South African President Jacob Zuma praised Cuba's record on health care and education and its support for African countries.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is in Havana for the commemoration

Earlier on Tuesday, the left-wing presidents of Bolivia and Venezuela, Evo Morales and Nicolas Maduro, were among those who signed a book of condolences at the Jose Marti memorial where a photograph flanked by an honour guard has been on display since Monday.

Another admirer of Fidel Castro, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, is joining the two presidents at the commemoration.

But many Western leaders are not attending the event in person.

Cooling relations?

The White House announced that its nominee for the post of ambassador to Havana, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes would attend the commemorative event but that it was not sending an "official delegation" to Cuba.

Ben Rhodes was one of the US officials who negotiated the thaw between the US and the Cuban government announced in December 2014.

President-elect Donald Trump on Monday threatened to end the detente if Cuba did not offer a "better deal".

On Wednesday Castro's ashes will be taken on a journey to Santiago, which is regarded as the Cuba's 1959 revolution.

The ashes will be placed on Sunday in the Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago, where Cuban independence hero Jose Marti is buried.

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