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Report: Castro walking, talking, working

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HAVANA, Cuba (AP) -- Fidel Castro is sitting up, walking, talking and even working some during his recovery from intestinal surgery that forced him to step aside temporarily as president, the Communist Party newspaper said Saturday on the eve of the leader's 80th birthday.

The report on the front page of Granma was the most optimistic report since the July 31 announcement that Cuba's longtime leader had undergone surgery and was temporarily ceding presidential powers to his brother Raul, the No. 2 in the government.

The paper headlined its three-paragraph story "Firm Like a Caguarian," comparing Castro to a hardwood tropical tree native to eastern Cuba.

Granma quoted an unidentified Castro friend as saying that the president, "after receiving a little physical therapy, took some steps in his room and then, seated in a chair, conversed animatedly." The friend also saw Castro "briefly dispatching some business," the story said.

Top officials in recent days have said he is recuperating and should be back to work in upcoming weeks, reassuring many Cubans. But a sliver of skepticism still exists for some, who say they believe the situation may be more grave than officials admit.

Castro's 80th birthday on Sunday had been expected to trigger days of parties, concerts and conferences on his legacy. Instead, the communist leader will likely spend the day in bed, recovering from surgery for intestinal bleeding.

Still, some Cubans planned to mark the occasion even without a public appearance by Castro, with musicians of all ages feting him on Saturday night.

Cubans had cultivated a myth over the last half-century that Castro was invincible, but they have had to confront the fact he is an octogenarian -- and frail like other elderly mortals.

A few Cubans say it won't be long before Castro is giving five-hour speeches once again, but many believe he will never be quite the same.

Castro was last seen publicly July 26, giving speeches in eastern Cuba where he joked he wouldn't still be ruling the island when he was 100 years old.

An announcement five days later shocked Cubans: On July 31, Castro's secretary went on state television to say the leader underwent surgery and was temporarily passing the torch to his brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro.

Details on Fidel Castro's whereabouts and medical condition are a mystery.

Anxiety and tributes

It was also unknown what public events might take place for his birthday, though a state-sponsored concert by several Cuban artists of various ages was scheduled for Saturday night.

A long list of international artists and intellectuals had planned to travel to Havana to fete Castro on his big day, but after the announcement of his illness, the celebration was pushed back to December.

Many doubt the Cuban leader will make even a brief appearance Sunday to cut his birthday cake, especially after hearing close friend Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez remark that Castro is in a "great battle for life."

"We are so anxious to see him," said Marlene Cassola, 44, a nurse attending a government-organized rally in support of Castro and the Cuban Revolution. "But he's resting. We know he is a very elderly person -- still, we're really hoping for the best."

Parliament Speaker Ricardo Alarcon has emphasized Castro's need to rest -- and how difficult that is for a man who typically micromanages several projects at a time and generally sleeps just a few hours a night.

The image of a man without enough time to implement all his projects has been a constant theme of tributes to Castro over the years.

Cuba's weekly Granma Internacional on Friday printed an essay, "The Fidel Castro I Know," written years ago by Castro's close friend Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The famed Colombian writer says, "I have heard him in his scant hours of yearning for life evoking things that he could have done differently to gain more time in life," becoming a man "overburdened with the weight of so many distant destinies."

Castro's nemesis, the United States, has taken his illness as an opportunity to push Cubans toward a political transition.

Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon told reporters Friday that Castro appears to be confronting "serious" health problems and his attempt to turn over power to his brother is doomed.

"The transfer won't work," Shannon said. "Ultimately, there is no political figure inside of Cuba who matches Fidel Castro."

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Guest trancepriest

Hey its bad Karma to wish someone death. I wouldn't wish that on anyone... being kidnapped maybe... but not death. :(

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