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World reacts to Fidel Castro's death with 'hope' and 'disappointment'

World leaders have reacted to the death of longtime Cuban president and revolutionary Fidel Castro. For many, the iconic figure represented pride in his country's independence, for others he was a dictator.

Shortly after the announcement that Fidel Castro had died, messages of condolence poured in from heads of governments around the world on Saturday, remembering the leader and the revolution he fostered in Cuba.

US President Barack Obama, whose administration opened a new chapter in US-Cuban relations, said that while relations between the two countries were marked by "discord and profound political disagreements" for nearly six decades, Americans were extending a "hand of friendship to the Cuban people" as they grieve.

"History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him," Obama said.

US President-elect Donald Trump, an opponent of the US rapproachement with Cuba, simply tweeted "Fidel Castro is dead!," without elaborating. He later called Castro "a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades." 

In a statement, French President Francois Hollande said Castro embodied the Cuban revolution in both its "hopes" and "disappointments."

"An actor of the Cold War … he represented, for Cubans, pride in rejecting external domination," Hollande added, referring to Castro's decision to distance himself and his country from the United States in the late 1950s.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said simply that "comrade Castro will live forever."

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the leader saying, "the name of this distinguished statesman is rightly considered the symbol of an era in modern world history … Fidel Castro was a sincere and reliable friend of Russia." Cuba's relationship with the former Soviet Union gained new heights in the late 1950s and early 1960s following the island nation's standoff with the United States, which many see as the closest the world has come to a nuclear war. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev tweeted a picture of himself with the Cuban leader, saying Castro had "a keen interest in events in the world and Russia."

For former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Castro left a clear legacy for his island nation.

"Fidel stood up and strengthened his country during the harshest American blockade when there was colossal pressure on him and he still took his country out of his blockade to the path of independent development," Russian news agency Interfax quoted Gorbachev as saying. Castro would be remembered as a "prominent politician" who managed to leave " a deep mark in the history of mankind," he added.

Castro's close ally Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro offered words of condolence, saying, "we will keep on winning and keep fighting. Fidel Castro is an example of the fight for all the people of the world. We will go forward with his legacy," he told Venezuelan television station Telesur.

El Salvadorian President Salvador Sanchez Ceren said he felt "deep sorrow ... of my friend and eternal companion, Commander Fidel Castro Ruz."

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted that "Fidel Castro was a friend of Mexico, promoting bilateral relations based on respect, dialogue and solidarity."

Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Twitter that Castro was "the leader who taught us to fight for the sovereignty of the state and the dignity of the peoples of the world."

Cuba's socialist-era ally, India, also reacted to the island leader's death, with President Pranab Mukherjee offering "heartfelt condolences on the sad demise of Cuba's revolutionary leader, former president and friend of India."

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Twitter that Castro's death marked the turning of "one of the great and tragic pages of the last century."

A statement from the Spanish government called Castro as "a figure of enormous historical importance."

"As a son of Spaniards, former president Castro always maintained close relations with Spain and showed great affection for his family and cultural ties. For this reason Spain especially shares the grief of Cuba's government and authorities," the government statement said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reflected on their cordial relationship.

"It is with great sadness that I have just heard of the death of Fidel Castro. A longtime friend of Canada and my family," Trudeau said.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras tweeted, "Goodbye, commandante. Until the peoples' eternal victory."

South African President Jacob Zuma thanked the Cuban leader for his help and support in the struggle to overthrow apartheid.

"President Castro identified with our struggle against apartheid. He inspired the Cuban people to join us in our own struggle against apartheid," Zuma said in a statement.


Ghanan President John Dramani Mahama said in a tweet Castro helped shape the world.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also tweeted his condolences.

Press and people react

In Miami, thousands of people celebrated the news of Castro's death. Many Cubans fled the island after 1959, soon after Castro took over as the country's president, and settled in Miami, New Jersey and elsewhere. Many of these were loyalists of President Fulgencio Batista, who had been overthrown by Castro's revolution. Many others felt that the Cuban leader's policies were too oppressive.

"We are all celebrating, this is like a carnival," 72-year-old Jay Fernandez told the Associated Press news agency. "Satan, Fidel is now yours. Give him what he deserves. Don't let him rest in peace."

US newspapers were awash with the news of Castro's demise, with "The New York Times" describing the leader as one who "bedeviled 11 American presidents and briefly pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war." Castro "became a towering international figure whose importance in the 20th century far exceeded which might have been expected from the head of state of a Caribbean island nation of 11 million people," the paper wrote.

The "Washington Post" wrote that the revolutionary leader was a "spiritual beacon to the world's far-left," but that "his detractors saw him as a repressive leader who turned Cuba into a de facto Gulag."

Carlos Paya, brother of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya said he would not mourn Castro. 

"He is a historical figure, certainly, just as Mussolini and other tyrants were," said Carlos Paya. 

"At the beginning of his tyranny he already put the world at risk, on the brink of a world war. He is responsible for a huge number of deaths, pain and sacrifices."

Cuba has meanwhile declared a nine-day mourning period for its former president, who will be cremated later on Saturday. His ashes will be buried in the southern city of Santiago after a four-day procession through the country, the government said in a statement.

aw,mg/sms,jlw (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)

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