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Ex-Cuban leader Fidel Castro appears in public

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HAVANA (AP) — Former Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua said Sunday that he met with aging revolutionary leader Fidel Castro for five hours, and he showed The Associated Press photos of the encounter.

The Saturday afternoon encounter squashes recent persistent rumors that the former Cuban leader was on his deathbed.

Mr. Jaua also confirmed that the 86-year-old retired president personally accompanied him to the Hotel Nacional after their meeting.

"He had the courtesy of bringing me to the hotel," Mr. Jaua said.

Mr. Castro then stayed for about a half-hour to chat with hotel staff, Yamila Fuster, the hotel's commercial director, said.

"Fidel Castro was here yesterday; he brought a guest and spoke to workers and hotel leaders for 30 minutes," Ms. Fuster said. She said she was not present but that the news was being released officially by the state-owned establishment.

"They told me he looked very good. He was wearing a checked shirt and a hat," she said.

The Nacional is Cuba's most famous hotel and a common choice of many distinguished guests to the island.

Asked to confirm the news, the Cuban government referred all questions to the hotel. The former president's health is considered a matter of national security in Cuba, and few details are ever released.

Mr. Castro's health has been the subject of intense speculation in recent days. He has not appeared on television or publicly since March, when he was shown greeting visiting Pope Benedict XVI.

Rumors that the former Cuban leader has died or is near death have circulated repeatedly for years, but they gained force after he failed to issue a public statement congratulating Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on his Oct. 7 election victory.

On Thursday, Cuban state media published a letter attributed to Mr. Castro, in which he congratulated graduates of a medical school on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.

Two close family members of Mr. Castro's also recently have denied he is in grave condition.

Juanita Castro, the former leader's sister, told the AP in Miami that reports of her brother's condition are "pure rumors" and "absurd."

Son Alex Castro told a reporter for a weekly Cuban newspaper that his father "is well, going about his daily life."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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