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Cuba bids farewell to Fidel Castro

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HAVANA (AP) – A nine-story portrait of a young Fidel Castro has joined the towering images of fallen guerrillas overlooking Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution, the massive square where Cuba on Monday begins bidding farewell to the man who ruled the island for nearly half a century.

After 10 years of leadership by Castro’s younger brother Raul, a relatively camera-shy and low-key successor, Cuba finds itself riveted once again by the words and images of the leader who dominated the lives of generations. Since his death on Friday night, state-run newspapers, television and radio have been running wall-to-wall tributes to Fidel, broadcasting non-stop footage of his speeches, interviews and foreign trips, interspersed with adulatory remembrances by prominent Cubans.

“There’s a genuine feeling of mourning, that’s not a formality, that’s not showy, that’s not outward-focused, but rather completely intimate,” former National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said on state television Sunday.

Ordinary people have largely been staying at home, off streets hushed by a prohibition on music and celebration during the nine days of official mourning for Castro. For some, particularly younger Cubans, Castro’s death barely registered.

Yankemell Barrera, a 20-year-old student, said Castro wasn’t a strong presence in his life and that he wasn’t much affected by his death or planning to go to any of the memorial events. He said studying for finals would be a better use of his time.

“Even if I’m obligated to go, I’m not doing it,” he said.

Tens of thousands of others, though, were expected to return to the streets Monday after 9 a.m., when simultaneous 21-gun salutes will sound in the capital and in the eastern city of Santiago, where Castro launched his revolution in 1953. At the same moment, Cubans are expected to begin filing through the monument to national hero Jose Marti in the center of the plaza, where the government said they would “render homage and sign a solemn oath to carry out the concept of revolution expressed by the revolutionary leader.”

On Wednesday, Castro’s ashes will begin a three-day procession east across Cuba, retracing the march of his bearded rebel army from the Sierra Maestra mountains to the capital. Castro’s ashes will be interred on Sunday in Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city.

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