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Fidel Castro steps out in public

Former Cuban president Fidel Castro seems to be defying ill-health rumors. The revolutionary figure was shown on Sunday in a photograph meeting with former Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua.

The image showed Castro inside a vehicle with Jaua and several others. He reportedly accompanied Jaua, a loyal supporter of leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, to the Hotel Nacional in Havana on Saturday.

Jaua told reporters on Sunday that Castro, 86, was in good health and lucid. The manager of the Hotel Nacional, Antonio Martinez, also acknowledged that Castro had been at the hotel on Saturday.

Castro ceded the presidency to his younger brother Raul, 81, back in 2008 for health reasons.

Poor health rumors

The former president had not been seen in public since March 28, when Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba.

Since then, rumors have spread about his poor health, and some have even suggested Castro was dead or on his death bed.

Since stepping down, Castro has written some 400 editorials, as well as books about the revolution. The fact that he has not written one of his usual editorials since June 19 has also fueled rumors of his ailing health. The rumors were denied last week by Castro's son Alex.

Cubans take to the polls

The news about Castro's public appearance came as Cubans lined up at polling stations for municipal elections in the one-party, Communist-run country. The small opposition, as usual, called for a boycott of the election.

More than 8.5 million Cubans over age 16 are eligible to vote.

Voting is not mandatory, but government supporters do try to get Cubans to participate in the process. Turnout was nearly 95 percent in the last municipal elections in 2010.

Sunday's election starts a long and complicated electoral process that will culminate in February, when legislators will decide on who occupies the presidency, the post held by Raul Castro since 2008.

tm/lw (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)