Fidel Castro, Cuban Leader and Scourge of the US, Steps Down; States Man: With Jimmy Carter in 2002 . Castro Was Feted for Standing Up to America Happiness Is: Castro and His Trademark Plume of Smoke in 1977 . the CIA Allegedly Once Plotted to Kill Him with an Exploding Cigar Making a Point: Fidel Castro in 2006, His Poor Health Taking an Obvious Toll. in Recent Years He Has Refused to Be Photographed and Not Appeared in Public for 19months

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FIDEL CASTRO, the world's longestserving Communist ruler, stepped downtoday as president and commander-inchief of Cuba.

Nearly half a century after he swept to power in the 1959 revolution, heannounced his resignation through the official Communist Party newspaper.

Castro, 81who with his cigar and beard was an instantly recognisable figure the worldoverhad already been forced through illness to provisionally hand over his dutiesto his younger brother Raul, the 76-year-old defence minister.

But today he finally made his resignation permanent and official, saying hewould not accept a new term when the newly elected parliament meets on Sunday.

He said in a statement on the website of the Communist Party's Granmanewspaper: "To my dear compatriots, who gave me the immense honour in recentdays of electing me a member of parliament ... I communicate to you that I willnot aspire to or accept ... the position of president of council of state andcommander in chief." The National Assembly or legislature is expected tonominate Raul as president in place of Castro, who has not appeared in publicfor almost 19 months after being stricken by an undisclosed illness.

His retirement draws the curtain on a political career that spanned the ColdWar and survived US enmity, CIA assassination attempts and the demise of SovietCommunism. A charismatic leader famous for his long speeches delivered in hisgreen military fatigues, Castro is admired in the Third World for standing upto the United States as well as providing free health care and education, butconsidered by his opponents to be a tyrant who suppressed freedom.

Ever since he overthrew the Batista regime in an armed revolution, the US hasdone its best to overthrow Castro.

President John F Kennedy's attempt to invade Cuba in 1961 ended in the Bay ofPigs debacle, and numerous CIA assassination attemptsincluding one reportedly involving an exploding Havana cigar came to nothing.

Pitting his country against the US from the beginninghe declared Cuba a Marxist state even before the Berlin Wall went upCastro's brazen risk-taking took the world to the brink of nuclear war in 1962when he allowed Moscow to place ballistic missiles in Cuba, leading to a 13-daystand-off between President Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in oneof the most dangerous episodes of the Cold War. …


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