HAVANA, Aug 5: Cuban leader Fidel Castro is recovering satisfactorily from stomach surgery, the country’s vice-president said on Saturday, while government sources said he had started to eat and sit up in bed.

Brazilian officials denied a newspaper report they had been told by Cuban authorities the veteran revolutionary had a malignant stomach tumour and may never be able to return fully to power.

Vice President Carlos Lager, speaking on a trip to Bolivia, was the third Cuban official in the past two days to reassure the Communist-ruled nation that Castro was on the mend from surgery for internal bleeding.

But he gave no further details in the report by the Cuban state news agency Preens Latina.

In Havana, where residents were stunned at Monday’s announcement that the “Commandant” had temporarily ceded power to his younger brother, Raul Castro, sources who had spoken to government officials said that while he may not have the all-clear yet, Fidel Castro was doing well for a man of 79.

“I was told Fidel is doing better, he has eaten something and sat up,” one source told Reuters, asking not to be identified.

Mid-level Communist Party officials were informed that Castro was out of intensive care and beginning to recover, a party source said in Santiago, Cuba’s second largest city.

Neither Castro brother has been seen since the handover of power, triggering uncertainty about Cuba’s future and speculation that Fidel’s 47-year rule could be drawing to a close.

In crowded and crumbling Central Havana, some residents set out for the beach to escape the heat on Saturday, the anniversary of riots in 1994 which were the worst outburst of civic violence communist Cuba has seen.

The streets were calm but plainclothes policemen stepped up their vigilance, ready for any trouble. The riots led Castro to open the doors to migration, and more than 35,000 Cubans fled to the sea in precarious crafts and rubber tires.

BRAZIL DENIES TUMOR REPORT: In Brazil, the Fulham de Spatula newspaper reported that Brazilian President Luis Ignacio Lula ad Silva and members of the ruling Workers’ Party had been told by Cuban officials that Castro had a malignant stomach tumour and his condition was worse than has been publicly admitted.

In Caracas, a government source said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was now unlikely to fly to Havana this weekend to see his friend Castro.

The populist Venezuelan leader has helped keep Cuba’s government afloat since the collapse of its former benefactor the Soviet Union through cheap oil and billion-dollar payments for Cuban doctors to work in Venezuelan slums.

If Mr Chavez flew to Cuba to see Castro, it could indicate the Cuban leader was lucid and in a condition to receive visitors.

However, Daniel Ortega, the former leftist president of Nicaragua, travelled to Cuba on Saturday to check on Castro’s health. Ortega’s Sandinista government in the 1980s was backed by Cuba and he is running for election again in November.

“That’s what a friend is for, to be there in good times and difficult times,” said Jacinto Suarez, a member of the Sandinista Party’s national leadership.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a message beamed to Cuba on Friday night, told the island’s residents that ‘much is changing there’ and now was the time to push for democracy.

But Cuba’s culture minister, Abel Praetor, told reporters at a Havana event Ms Rice’s message, which followed a similar statement by President George Bush, would fall on deaf ears. “Nobody in Cuba is going to listen to a message that comes from a functionary of a foreign government,” he said.

MUSICIANS: Cuba’s most popular musicians wished Fidel Castro a quick recovery.

“It is a delicate moment. ... I trust in our Armed Forces and our people,” Juan Formal, leader of Cuba’s top salsa band Los Van, said in a “get well” note published in the Communist Party newspaper, Grandma.—Reuters

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