Canada's Trudeau to skip Castro funeral after backlash

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will not attend the funeral of Fidel Castro, his office said on Monday, days after Trudeau’s warm comments about the late Cuban leader sparked a backlash.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at the conclusion of the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit in Lima, Peru November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

Trudeau referred on Saturday to Castro as a “remarkable leader” and expressed his sorrow at the death of “Cuba’s longest serving president.”

Trudeau acknowledged on Sunday that Castro had been a dictator as political opponents called on him to boycott the funeral.

Outrage and mockery about Trudeau’s fond words for Castro, who had been an honorary pallbearer at the funeral in 2000 of Trudeau’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, has threatened to end the Liberal leader’s long honeymoon.

Noting the “many questions” about whether Trudeau would attend the funeral, spokeswoman Andree-Lyne Halle said in an email the prime minister would skip the event.

“His schedule doesn’t permit it,” she said.

Governor General David Johnston, Queen Elizabeth’s representative in Canada, will attend a commemoration in honor of Castro in Havana on Tuesday, at the request of Trudeau, Johnson’s office said in a statement.

Canada has long been one of Cuba’s closest Western allies, maintaining ties after its 1959 revolution even as the United States imposed an economic embargo.

Trudeau’s condolences following Castro’s death prompted a parody trend on Twitter, with users penning fake fawning #Trudeaueulogies for Cambodian dictator Pol Pot, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Opposition Conservatives have seized on the Castro controversy as a political misstep that could cut into the popularity the prime minister has enjoyed among voters since his surprise majority election in October 2015.

The government faced a barrage of questions in parliament on Monday about Trudeau’s Castro comments, but the prime minister did not attend the raucous session.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said Trudeau’s comments were not markedly different from those by leaders of Spain, Mexico, the European Union and the United Nations.

Maxime Bernier, foreign affairs minister under the former Conservative government and a contender for his party’s leadership, said Trudeau’s remarks about Castro risked alienating the United States by departing so dramatically from the views of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who has criticized President Barack Obama’s diplomatic thaw with Cuba.

“Does Trudeau believe his historic family ties with Castro are more important than our economic interests and the future of millions of Canadian workers?” Bernier said in a statement.

Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by David Gregorio and Peter Cooney