Cuban lawmakers meet to name president

February 24, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Cuban lawmakers met Sunday to name a new head of state for the first time in nearly half a century, days after the ailing, 81-year-old Fidel Castro said he would not accept another term as president.Castro was among the 614 members of parliament elected on Jan. 20 but his seat was empty. As the names of the new National Assembly's members were read aloud, mention of the absent Castro drew a standing ovation.

Lawmakers gave another standing ovation to Castro's 76-year-old brother Raul, who is expected to be named president. The younger Castro has headed Cuba's caretaker government for 19 months, ever since Fidel announced he had undergone emergency intestinal surgery and was provisionally ceding his powers.

The parliament will choose a new, 31-member Council of State to lead the country. The council's president serves as the country's head of state and government.

Fidel Castro has held the position since the current government structure was created in 1976. For 18 years before that, he was prime minister - a post that no longer exists.

He remains the head of the Communist Party as first secretary. Castro wrote in an essay published Friday that preparations for the parliament meeting "left me exhausted," and when he finally decided not to accept another presidential term, he did not regret it.

"I slept better than ever," he wrote. "My conscience was clear and I promised myself a vacation."


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