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Castro Resigns as Cuba's President

Fidel Castro announced Tuesday he is stepping down as Cuba's president and commander-in-chief.

The Cuban president is 81 and has ruled Cuba for most of his life. But he hasn't been seen in public since he became ill and provisionally turned over his powers to his brother, Raul, in July 2006.

Castro's retirement was not a surprise. Cuba's National Assembly is scheduled to meet this weekend to elect a new president. Castro was in position to be the president again, but he hinted in December that he would not hang onto power indefinitely.

In a letter published Tuesday in the online edition of the Communist Party newspaper Granma, Castro said he would not seek, or accept, another term as president.

Castro has not been involved in day-to-day matters since July 2006, but his power has never been derived from holding a governmental position. He was not Cuba's president or prime minister when he took power in January 1959 as a young revolutionary who overthrew a dictator. Those government positions were held by other people, but he held the real power.

Stepping down as president and commander-in-chief might not make a big difference, as he retained his position as first secretary of the Communist parry.

Castro's decision will likely mean Raul Castro will be chosen president, and it may free Raul Castro to exercise the responsibility of that position for the first time.

Even though Raul Castro has been acting president, he has often been undercut by his brother. Raul Castro has called for better relations with the United States, only to have Fidel Castro say that it was not the time.

Raul Castro will likely open the Cuban economy and make other changes, but as long as Fidel Castro is alive the Communist Party leader will still be a powerful force in Cuba.

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