Ending long era in Cuba, Raul Castro resigns as head of Communist party

Ending long era in Cuba, Raul Castro resigns as head of Communist party

His retirement means that for the first time in more than six decades Cubans won't have a Castro formally guilding their affairs

First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) Raul Castro on Friday announced he is retiring as the head of the party.

"As for me, my task as first secretary of the Central Committee of the Party concludes, with the satisfaction of having fulfilled (my mission) and confidence in the future of the country," Castro said after presenting the key report on the opening day of the PCC's 8th Congress.

Delegates gave Castro a standing ovation, Cuban Television reported.

Castro said he declined "a proposal to remain in the higher organs of the party organization, in whose ranks I will continue to be a revolutionary combatant."

The 89-year-old communist leader said: "As long as I live I will be ready with my foot on the stirrup to defend the homeland, the revolution and socialism with more strength than ever."

His retirement means that for the first time in more than six decades Cubans won't have a Castro formally guilding their affairs, and it comes at a difficult time, with many on the island anxious about what lies ahead.

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Castro expressed confidence in the new leaders of the party, and his satisfaction in handing over the reins to a well-prepared group of people committed to ethics, cultural values and the nation.

Castro's retirement takes effect on Monday, the last day of the Congress, when the party's new leadership will be elected.

He was elected to the top position of the PCC in April 2011 at the PCC's 6th Congress, succeeding his older brother and ex-president Fidel Castro, who had held that position since the founding of the party in 1965.

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