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Castro Warns of Nuclear 'Holocaust'
HAVANA - Ailing Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro has issued a dire warning of a nuclear "holocaust" as he mustered enough strength to address the country's parliament for the first time since his health crisis four years ago.
The soon-to-be 84 father of the Cuban revolution looked much fitter and more energetic than in previous appearances as he rose to the podium of the National Assembly Saturday to expand on his favorite theme of recent days -- alleged US preparations for a nuclear war in the Middle East.
In a series of Internet articles and public comments, Castro has been talking about his fear that the United States and Israel are about to launch a nuclear attack on Iran.
With assembly members listening intently, Castro said it would be up to US President Barack Obama to issue an order to carry out such a strike, but that, if he realized the consequences of this action, "he would not give it".
"Fate would have it that at this precise moment, the president of the United States would be an offspring of an African man and a white woman, of Muslims and Christians," Castro said. "He won't give the order if he becomes aware" of the devastation it would cause.
"We are making a contribution to that persuasive effort," said the Cuban communist leader.
He stressed that should nuclear war be unleashed, "the existing world order would not survive and would immediately collapse."
According to Castro, Obama's advantage was that he was not comparable to former US president Richard Nixon, who was forced to resign in 1974 amid a political scandal.
"Nixon was a cynical man," commented the Cuban leader. "That country has had a lot of cynical presidents, as well as some ignorant ones."
Castro, who led Cuba for 48 years, was sidelined in 2006 after a gastrointestinal illness and subsequent operations forced him to leave the presidency now held by his brother Raul Castro, 79.
At one point, Fidel Castro was so frail that he could not stand or walk in public.
His address on Saturday, at times alongside his wife, Dalia Soto del Valle, seemed aimed at underscoring that he was physically back and still in the political fight.
Top leaders including the Cuban president and lawmakers cheered and cried out "Viva Fidel!" as the father of the revolution entered the chamber in an event broadcast live on state television and radio.
But Castro, who turns 84 on August 13, spoke for just over 10 minutes -- a fleeting appearance for a politician once famous for oratory going on for hours.
Castro was last seen at a ceremony marking a key event in the Cuban revolution on July 26, his seventh public appearance in three weeks.
Though no longer president, Fidel Castro does still hold the powerful position of first secretary of the Communist Party and remains a member of Cuba's legislature.
Cuban lawmakers spoke of their joy at seeing "comrade" Fidel addressing the assembly, with Eduardo Borges saying he was "very proud" of his return "now that the world is caught between war and peace."
Some Cubans said it was startling to see images of the aging leader back in front of the assembly.
"It was surreal to see Fidel Castro reappearing to tell us about the Iranian crisis and not the one in Cuba," a young Cuban artist told AFP on condition of anonymity.
On August 1, Raul Castro expanded opportunities for self-employment ahead of looming government plans to slash as many as one million jobs -- 20 percent of communist Cuba's work force -- from state payrolls.
The economy, 95 percent of which is currently in state hands, does not have the ability to absorb such vast numbers of jobless. Raul Castro's move aims to try to reduce the socioeconomic fallout, but an uphill battle is expected.