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Fidel Castro re-emerges on Cuban TV

HAVANA - Fidel Castro appeared relaxed and lucid in his most prominent television interview in years yesterday, though he spoke slowly and with a raspy voice in an appearance that thrust him back into the limelight after a long time spent out of public view.

The 83-year-old former president talked about the conflict between North and South Korea at the start of the broadcast of "Mesa Redondo" (Round Table), a daily Cuban talk show on current events.

It was not clear whether the broadcast was live, but Castro referred to a July 5 article as having been published six days ago, which would mean the show was taped on Sunday.

Castro spent the early moments of the interview reading from writings by U.S. linguist Noam Chomsky and others, explaining why he thinks tension in Korea could ultimately trigger a world war. At times he showed flashes of his prowess as a powerful speaker, at others he paused for lengthy periods and read from notes.

Castro has shunned the spotlight since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006. The illness forced him to step down and cede power to his younger brother Raúl. His recovery has been a closely held state secret.

Castro's sudden re-emergence comes after the announcement last week that Cuba will free 52 political prisoners in the next few months under a deal with the Roman Catholic Church. Seven of them have left for Madrid. The former leader made no mention of the deal in the early part of his interview.

While Cubans have become accustomed to reading Castro's writings on world affairs in the local press, he has stayed largely out of the public eye since ceding power, helping Raúl Castro solidify his place as the leader after a lifetime spent in his more famous brother's shadow.

The highly anticipated interview was announced in the Communist-party daily Granma earlier in the day. Castro appeared in videotaped interviews with Cuban television in June and September 2007.

Photos of Castro greeting workers at a science center were published in pro-government blogs and on state media over the weekend, the first time he has been photographed in public since his illness. Cubans reacted with surprise.

"I think it will have a positive effect on people," student David Suarez, 21, told AP. "It will give hope that once again he will help to solve our problems."

Magaly Delgado Rojo, 72, a retiree, said the appearances must have been carefully thought out by Cuban leadership. "The photos and now the Round Table are meant to send a message: 'I am here and I am on top of everything. . . . I am a part of every decision that is being made,"' she said. "This is not casual at all. This is calculated."

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