Fidel Castro Makes Surprise Appearance

Fidel Castro Makes Surprise Appearance

Cuba's retired leader Fidel Castro chatted with other voters and reporters for more than an hour as he made his first extended public appearance since 2010 to vote in parliamentary elections.

The 86-year-old has voted from home in three previous elections since being taken ill in 2006 and handing power to his brother Raul two years later.

State-run television said the white-bearded Castro spoke to the public at a Havana polling station about efforts to reform the economy, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and praised participation in the election.

"The people are truly revolutionary, they have really sacrificed. We don't have to prove it, history will. Fifty years of the blockade and they haven't given in," he said, referring to the US economic blockade of the communist nation.

Cubans went to the polls to elect 612 deputies to the National Assembly and more than 1,000 delegates to provincial assemblies already chosen by the Communist Party-selected list.

About 95% of Cuba's 8.7 million residents over 16 years of age were expected to cast ballots in the election despite their vote having little impact as the number of candidates matches the number of open positions.

The general election cycle began last year with the election of more than 15,000 ward delegates in the only vote in which residents choose between two or more candidates.

"It is a different electoral system. Personally I find it is more democratic than (others) I know," Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said after casting his ballot.

Since taking over from his brother, President Raul Castro has decentralised the state-dominated economy, allowing more space for private initiative in agriculture and retail services and has lifted many restrictions on personal freedoms, such as travel and buying and selling homes and cars.

He has also introduced limited top government posts to two five-year terms, but is still to legalise other political organisations.