Castro Quits as Cuba's President

The ailing 81-year-old Fidel Castro has resigned as Cuba's president after foiling attempts to topple him for nearly half a century, leaving on his own terms by clearing the way for his brother Raul to take power.

The end of Castro's rule, the longest in the world for a head of government, frees 76-year-old Raul to implement reforms he has hinted at since taking over as acting president when Castro fell ill in July 2006.

"My wishes have always been to discharge my duties to my last breath," Castro wrote in a letter published today in the Communist Party daily Granma.

But, he wrote, "it would be a betrayal to my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer."

It wasn't until several hours after Castro's message was posted on the internet, that official radio began spreading the news across the island. Cubans seemed to go about their business as usual, having seen Castro's resignation as inevitable, but with a certain sadness.

Cuban dissidents welcomed the news as a possible first step toward possible change.

Moderate opposition leader Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, a former commander who fought alongside Castro in the revolution, expressed hopes that whoever follows him "will have freedom to launch economic and political changes as well."

Castro temporarily ceded his powers to his brother after undergoing intestinal surgery. Since then, the elder Castro has not been seen in public, appearing only sporadically in official photographs and videotapes and publishing dense essays about mostly international themes as his younger brother has consolidated his rule.

Castro remains a member of parliament and is likely to be elected to the 31-member Council of State on Sunday, though he will no longer be its president.

Castro also retains his powerful post as first secretary of Cuba's Communist Party. The party leadership posts generally are renewed at party congresses, the last of which was held in 1997.

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