Cuba's Fidel Castro makes rare state TV appearance

Fidel Castro still has power and influence in Cuba

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Former Cuban President Fidel Castro has made a rare appearance on state television.

The 83-year-old looked alert as he spoke at length on international affairs on Mesa Redonda (Round Table), although his voice was weak at times.

Mr Castro warned the United States not to launch an attack against Iran.

The former president made no mention of dissidents but his interview was broadcast as several political prisoners were freed to fly to Spain.

They were the first of 52 dissidents who the Cuban authorities have agreed to release, following a deal reached last week with the Catholic Church and Spain.

At the weekend, images emerged of Mr Castro in public for the first time since July 2006 when he underwent major surgery and retired from public life, handing over power to his younger brother Raul.

'Chilling threat'

Wearing a checked shirt and a blue zip-up sports jacket, Cuba's revolutionary leader sat behind a desk in a sparsely decorated office at an undisclosed location and took questions from a presenter.

Start Quote

The United States is moving towards the control of the vital oil-producing regions of the Middle East - with violent means should other means fail”

End Quote Fidel Castro Former president of Cuba

It was not immediately clear if the hour-long broadcast was live, but the Associated Press news agency reports that he referred to an article from 5 July as having been published six days ago, which would imply that the show was recorded on Sunday.

The BBC's Michael Voss in Havana says his voice was at times was weak and hoarse, but the message was vintage Fidel, delivering an attack on the US this time over its policies on North Korea and Iran.

"Instead of taking practical steps towards the reduction of the chilling threat of the proliferation of nuclear weapons in Iran or any other part of the world, the United States is moving towards the control of the vital oil-producing regions of the Middle East - with violent means should other means fail," he said.

Our correspondent says Mr Castro's sudden return to the limelight may be designed to send a message that he remains part of the decision-making process.

He remains head of Cuba's Communist Party and continues to make his influence felt through regular newspaper editorials.

However, apart from occasional photographs of him meeting visiting international leaders, appearances on television are extremely rare.

Even more unusual was the unprecedented appearance last week, with photographs of him talking to workers at a scientific centre in Havana appearing in Monday's newspapers, our correspondent adds.

He was smiling and looked slightly stooped but relatively healthy.

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