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Cuban officials say Castro not dying

HAVANA (Reuters) - Two senior Cuban officials said on Wednesday that Cuban leader Fidel Castro, absent from public view for more than a year, is recovering from an intestinal problem that required several operations.

A man reads a newspaper while sitting at his desk next to an image of Cuba's leader Fidel Castro, in Havana August 21, 2007. Castro is not at death's door and rumors in Miami of his demise are wishful thinking, Cuban Culture Minister Abel Prieto said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa

Cuban Culture Minister Abel Prieto said Castro was not at death’s door and dismissed rumors in Miami of his demise as “wishful thinking” by exiled opponents.

Prieto said he had no inside information on Castro’s medical condition, but deduced from the 81-year-old leader’s regular essays and columns that he is not dying.

“Nobody who was agonizing could be doing these analyses and reflections about day-to-day reality,” he told reporters. “He is aware of everything that happens, he is reading the wires, he is analyzing and evaluating.”

The speaker of Cuba’s National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, told CNN that Castro’s recovery was “going well” although he had not been in touch with him personally for more than a week.

“He suffered an intestinal accident, from which he is recovering after several operations,” Alarcon said on CNN.

Alarcon said Cuba was calm without Castro at the helm, while the convalescing leader had plenty of time to read and write, as evidenced by the 4,256-word essay published by the Communist Party daily Granma on Wednesday.

In it, Castro claimed the U.S. government had misinformed Americans and the world about Sept 11, echoing conspiracy theories about the attacks six years ago with hijacked planes.

Castro has not appeared in public since emergency bowel surgery forced him to hand over power to his brother Raul Castro in July 2006, relinquishing control for the first time since his 1959 revolution. Details of Castro’s health have not leaked from his water-tight inner circle.

Cubans last saw him in a pre-taped television interview broadcast on June 5 in which he appeared to be stronger.

Since March, Castro has reasserted his presence in Cuba through newspaper columns also read out fully on the country’s state-controlled radio and television.

His prolonged absence has fueled death rumors in Miami, a bastion of anti-Castro sentiment among the large Cuban emigre community, which eagerly awaits the demise of a man they see as a tyrant who turned their homeland into a communist state.

“I think they are people who confound their wishes with reality, they are obsessed with this,” Prieto said.

While Cuban officials say Castro is on the mend, they have stopped insisting that he will return to office.

Prieto, Cuba’s only long-haired minister and a member of the Communist Party’s powerful executive Politburo, said he was convinced an “overwhelming majority” of Cubans want Castro to continue leading Cuba as president of the Council of State.

The National Assembly must elect the 31-member Council of State at the start of its next session in March. Any changes to its leadership would take place at that time.

Additional reporting by Esteban Israel