Fidel Castro's ashes have arrived in the city that served as the birthplace of his revolution. Tens of thousands of adorers crowded the streets to witness the ceremony honoring the former Cuban leader.
The convoy carrying the late communist leader's remains arrived in Santiago de Cuba on Saturday after travelling several days across the Cuban countryside.
Hundreds of thousands of people cheered as the army jeep transporting the urn containing Castro's ashes pulled into the city, the last stop before his remains will be interred on Sunday.
The convoy, which began in the capital, Havana, some 560 miles (900 kilometers) away, stopped at various iconic locations around the city, including the balcony where Castro gave one of his most famous speeches following the end of his victorious revolution in 1959.
The urn also passed the barracks where his first uprising took place, as well as Revolution Square.
Supporters cried "I am Fidel!" following screenings of some of Castro's past speeches, which played on a giant screen in the city.
End of an era
Later, thousands attended a rally featuring speeches delivered by the heads of state-run groups of small farmers, women, revolutionary veterans and neighborhood watch committee members. Several notable foreign dignitaries, including Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega and Brazil's former President Dilma Rousseff, were in attendance. Argentine footballer Diego Maradona, a longtime friend of Castro, also came to pay his respects.
Speaking before Santiago's packed central plaza, Fidel's brother and successor, Raul, vowed to "defend the fatherland and socialism."
"We will overcome any obstacle, turmoil or threat in the building of socialism in Cuba," he said.
The president also announced that no public streets or monuments would be named after the communist icon, in keeping with his brother's final wish.
"Fidel! Fidel! Until victory, always!"
The leader's remains will be interred on Sunday at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery following the end of the nine-day mourning period.
Castro has left behind a divisive legacy following his death on November 25 at age 90. While many Cubans have praised him for his policies on health care and education, others around the world have criticized him and called him a tyrant.
Raul Castro, who has already implemented some economic reforms in his decade as president, has promised to step down in 2018.
blc/cmk (AP, AFP, dpa)