Cubans Gather to Honor Fidel Castro

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans - civilians and officials - gathered Tuesday night in Havana's Revolution Square to honor their late leader, Fidel Castro.

The crowd chanted "Long live the revolution!" and "Fidel! Fidel!" as leftist Latin American allies and other leaders from the region and Africa joined the commemoration.

Castro died Friday night at age 90. A cause of death has not been announced.

Beginning Wednesday, his ashes will be transported eastward across the country, in a three-day procession that follows in reverse the route taken by the young revolutionary and his rebel fighters as they advanced on Havana from the Sierra Maestra mountains before taking power in January 1959.

"It's a kind of symbolic closure to his rule. The Castro era began with the triumph of the revolution and Fidel's march across the country. Now he's gone and they retrace that route, and the Cubans of this era have a chance to say goodbye," William LeoGrande, an American University professor of Latin American politics, told AP.

Memorial services began Monday in the capital and in the eastern city of Santiago, where Castro started the Cuban revolution in 1953.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and South Africa's Jacob Zuma were at the rally Tuesday.

But reports said few major world heads of state were traveling to the Caribbean island. Many countries were sending second-tier senior officials to pay homage.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called Castro a "true friend of Russia," said he needed to focus on preparing a major speech and was not traveling to the island.

White House officials said President Barack Obama asked deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the president's nominee to be ambassador to Havana, to represent the United States at the late Cuban leader's funeral.

Castro's body was cremated Saturday, and a nine-day period of mourning was declared. His ashes will be buried Sunday in Santiago de Cuba.

Castro, raised near Santiago de Cuba, launched his revolt against the rule of Fulgencio Batista in 1953 from the southeastern city, finally toppling the U.S.-backed leader and seizing power in 1959. He set up a one-party socialist government, which constantly defied Washington and allied itself with the former Soviet Union.

Castro handed power to his brother Raul in 2006, although he still exercised some power behind the scenes until recent years.

Source: Voice of America.

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