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Castro Leads Anti-U.S. March in Cuba

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By VANESSA ARRINGTON, Associated Press Writer

HAVANA - President Fidel Castro (news - web sites) led hundreds of thousands of Cubans in an anti-American protest Friday with denunciations and ridicule of President Bush (news - web sites), saying the U.S. leader was fraudulently elected and trying to impose "world tyranny."

The Cuban leader led a sea of Cubans past the U.S. diplomatic mission here on the oceanfront Malecon Boulevard in a demonstration organized by the communist government against new U.S. measures aimed at squeezing the island's economy and pushing out Castro.

The crowd chanted "Free Cuba! Fascist Bush!"

Castro said the march was "an act of indignant protest and a denunciation of the brutal, merciless and cruel measures" announced last week by Bush to tighten the 44-year U.S. embargo on the island.

The 77-year-old Castro, dressed in his usual green military uniform and field cap, appeared to walk with difficulty, favoring a leg, as he led the march for about 800 yards, sometimes waving a small flag before getting into a waiting car and leaving.

The measures included restrictions on money transfers and family visits, increased efforts to transmit anti-Castro television to Cuba and appointment of a coordinator to plan a transaction from socialism to capitalism.

Castro said 1 million people showed up. The number could not be confirmed, but the turnout was well into the hundreds of thousands at least. Many protesters wore red shirts and waved small Cuban flags made of paper.

"This country could be exterminated... erased from the face of the earth," Castro told the crowd. But he said it would never fall into "the humiliating condition of a neo-colony of the United States."

He said that if conflict comes, Bush "will be thousands of kilometers away and I will be in the first line of defense, ready to die in defense of my people."

Castro accused the United States of fighting "wars of conquest to seize the markets and resources of the world" while Cuba, he said, was sending abroad thousands of doctors to save lives.

He insisted that Bush had "no morality nor any right at all to speak of liberty, democracy and human rights" and he said of Bush's 2000 election victory, "all the world knows it was fraudulent."

Posters portrayed the U.S. president wearing a Hitler mustache and accompanied by a Nazi swastika.

In a relatively early fallout of the Iraqi prisoner scandal, posters carried photos of abused Iraqis overwritten with the words: "This would never happen in Cuba."

Castro referred briefly to the scandal, saying the tortures had "stupefied the world" and he insisted that Cuba had never practiced such torture.

A miles-long string of buses brought hundreds of thousands of Cubans to the event well before dawn in an effort organized workplace by workplace, neighborhood by neighborhood.

The Labor Ministry freed most state employees from work for the day.

The march was announced Tuesday, a day after the government stunned Cubans by suddenly halting most of the dollar sales they have come to count on due to the scarcity of many products in Cuban pesos. Only food, personal hygiene products and gasoline were exempt.

Officials have promised the measures are temporary but said prices would be increase when the dollar-only stores reopen. They blamed the U.S. government and its latest additions to the U.S. embargo aimed at Cuba's communist system.

The U.S. measures, announced last week, are meant to reduce hard currency on the island by limiting how often Cuban-Americans can visit relatives, decreasing how much they can spend and prohibiting money transfers to Cuban officials and Communist Party members.

Bush said the United States would also spend $59 million over the next two years to help promote the goal of a democratic Cuba, including $18 million to evade Cuba's jamming of Radio and TV Marti, which are anti-Castro U.S. government broadcast operations.

Cuban officials have warned the measures could be a possible prelude to stronger U.S. attacks, possibly even an invasion.

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By VANESSA ARRINGTON, Associated Press Writer

Cuban officials have warned the measures could be a possible prelude to stronger U.S. attacks, possibly even an invasion.

Can Bush wait with his invasion, I want to go on a holiday to Cuba

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