New photos of smiling Castro
Havana - New photographs of a smiling, tracksuit-clad Fidel Castro greeting workers at a scientific think tank were posted on the blogs of two Cuban journalists and a media website on Saturday, offering a rare glimpse of the reclusive revolutionary leader in a public forum.
Castro, 83, appears slightly stooped but otherwise healthy in the pictures, which were said to have been taken on Wednesday during a visit to the National Centre for Scientific Investigation in Havana.
One set of four photos appeared on the blogs of two official Cuban journalists and apparently were taken with a worker's mobile phone. The former Cuban leader is seen raising his hand to wave in one picture and seemingly being led away in another.
More images from the same event were posted later in the day on Cubadebate, a state-run media website. In those pictures, Fidel is seen laughing and talking with the workers, some of whom line an overhead walkway to wave and clap at him. In one, he leans back casually against a desk, looking animated.
"He is thin but he looks good, and according to our director, he is very good mentally," reads a comment accompanying photos on the blog of Rosa C Baez, a journalist who works for official Cuban media.
The comments were sent to her along with the photos by an unidentified Cuban worker, who said Castro stopped, said hello and blew kisses to the employees.
"They didn't let us get close to him, but when he left, there were too many people standing around and I was standing just three metres from him," gushes the worker.
Those photos were also posted on the blog of Norelys Morales, a well-known Cuban television journalist. Morales told The Associated Press she got them in an e-mail sent to various people by the worker. She would not reveal the worker's name.
Repeated calls to the think tank went unanswered on Saturday.
Cuban media are strictly controlled by the government, and the fact the photos appeared on blogs of two official journalists and later on Cubadebate was significant. Cubadebate said the revolutionary icon visited the science centre to celebrate its 45th anniversary.
Turned over power
Castro had not been photographed in public since falling seriously ill in July 2006. The illness forced him to turn over power - first temporarily, then permanently - to his younger brother Raul, who is 79.
Photographs of him behind closed doors, usually with a visiting head of state or other dignitaries, have been published from time to time by Cuban media, most recently during a visit in February by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. In those pictures, Castro looked cheerful and robust.
The elder Castro remains head of Cuba's Communist Party and continues to publish his thoughts on world events in frequent opinion pieces.
The two Castros have ruled Cuba since overthrowing dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Fidel's health has for years been the subject of frequent rumours - particularly among exiles in Florida.
Castro himself said last year that he does not think he will see Barack Obama re-elected in 2012 - though it was unclear if he was passing judgment on his own life expectancy or the political fortunes of the US president.