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Official: Fidel On Road To Re-Election

Fidel Castro will be in "perfect shape" to run for re-election to parliament next spring, the first step toward securing yet another term as Cuba's president, National Assembly head Ricardo Alarcon said Thursday.

"I would nominate him," said Alarcon, the highest-ranking member of parliament. "I'm sure he will be in perfect shape to continue handling his responsibilities."

Mobbed by foreign reporters following a parliamentary session to discuss Cuba's upcoming elections, Alarcon said Castro "is doing fine and continuing to focus on recovery and rehabilitation."

A lengthy process of nominating candidates for municipal elections will begin this summer, leading to several rounds of voting. By March 2008, Cuba should be ready to hold parliamentary elections that are expected to include Castro, Alarcon said.

"When Castro was close to death, everyone in the leadership stayed in the background and refused to talk to the press, seemingly trying to avoid giving the impression that they were promoting themselves or trying to fill the Cuban president's shoes," noted CBS News Havana producer Portia Siegelbaum.

"This included his younger brother and acting President Raul Castro, who strictly limited his public appearances and only stepped in for his older brother when unavoidable, such as during the Non-Aligned Summit last September," Siegelbaum said.

Eighty-year-old Fidel Castro was the world's longest-ruling head of state, occupying the island's presidency for 47 years before temporarily stepping aside in favor of Raul, following emergency intestinal surgery in July.

Alarcon said he has been in contact with Castro many times in recent weeks, but stopped short of saying he has seen him in person. He said that even though Castro ceded power to his 75-year-old brother, he never "abandoned his role."

"Fidel has been and is very involved, very connected, very active in all manner of important decisions that this country makes," Alarcon said. "What's happening is, he can't do it the same way he did before because he has to dedicate a good part of his time to recuperating physically."

Switching later to deliberate but fluent English, Alarcon told journalists: "To what extent he will go back to doing things the way he did, the way he is accustomed to, it's up to him."

He wouldn't say whether Raul Castro will remain acting president if his brother becomes well enough to return to work full-time.

Cuba has remained calm and functioned normally under Raul Castro. Though Fidel has not appeared in public, he has sounded lucid and up on current events in a pair of recent telephone conversations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

After earlier post-surgery photos had shown him looking sick and weak, images on state television in late January revealed a stronger and healthier seeming Castro.

Although Fidel Castro temporarily ceded his functions to his brother, he still holds the title of president of the Council of State, Cuba's supreme governing body.

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