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Castro: Most Critical Moment Is Over

Fidel Castro said in a statement Tuesday that he has lost more than 41 pounds since he had intestinal surgery but added that the "most critical moment" was behind him.

"Today I am recovering at a satisfactory rhythm," said the statement published in the Communist Party daily Granma, which was accompanied by new photographs of the 80-year-old Castro.

He said that he just recently had the last stitches from his surgery removed.

"I can affirm that the most critical moment has been left behind."

The statement was accompanied by 10 photographs of Castro during his convalescence, in all of them sitting up and wearing either short-sleeved navy blue or light-blue pajamas. In several he is reading or writing.

"Ever since some new video of Castro was broadcast by Cuban television last Friday, Cubans have been commenting on how thin he looked," reports CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum in Havana. "Tuesday's message confirms their impression but the fact that he lost 41 pounds in just 'a few days' should also indicate to them just how ill he has been."

Most of the pictures show the leader from the waist up, although one shows his whole body as he sits in a rocking chair with slippers on his feet, reading what looks to be a newspaper.

In another Castro holds up a broadsheet proof of a new book written from a series of interviews he gave to French journalist Ignacio Ramonet, which he said he was reviewing during his recovery.

"In the coming days I will be receiving distinguished visitors," he added, apparently referring to some of the heads of state and government who will traveling to Havana for a summit of nonaligned nations.

"This doesn't mean that every activity will be immediately accompanied by video or photographic images, although news will be provided of every one," the statement said.

The Cuban leader announced on July 31 that he was stepping aside as president to recover from the operation. It remains unclear when he had the surgery.

He said he was temporarily turning over power to his 75-year-old brother Raul, the defense minister. It was the first time in 47 years of rule that Castro had stepped aside, even temporarily.

In the weeks since, the nature of his surgery and his specific ailment have been treated as a state secret.

"All of us must understand that it is not convenient to systematically offer information, nor give out images of my health situation," Castro added. "All of us must also understand realistically that the complete recovery time, whether we like it or not, will be prolonged.

"At this moment I am not in a hurry, and no one should be in a hurry. The country is marching and moving ahead," he said.

The government has not announced whether Fidel or Raul will represent the country during next week's summit.

"Although you can't entirely rule out a cameo appearance before the heads of state gathering ends, it seems less likely at this point," says Siegelbaum.

As host of the summit, Castro assumes the presidency of the Movement for the next three years. This is his second shot at the post. Cuba hosted the sixth NOAL Summit in 1979.

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