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Castro Appears to Faint During Speech

June 23, 2001

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HAVANA (AP) _ Fidel Castro appeared to faint during a live televised speech before tens of thousands Saturday, and was helped off the stage by aides. He returned to the podium within a few minutes to assure his audience that he was fine, but said he needed some rest.

The 74-year-old Cuban leader, wearing his traditional long-sleeved uniform and heavy black boots, was addressing the crowd under the bright sun with temperatures in the mid-80s when his body suddenly began listing off to the side.

Government cameras suddenly pulled away and concentrated on the crowd.

People at the rally said that the president never fell, and was immediately helped off the stage by uniformed members of his security staff.

``Calmness and courage, we lift our flag,″ Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said, taking the microphone immediately after Castro appeared to faint.

``Companero Fidel obviously has had in the middle of the heat ... a momentary fall,″ Perez Roque said.

The foreign minister indicated that the leader recently had kept a busy schedule, speaking Friday night at the opening of new ballet school, then staying up to prepare for the Saturday morning speech.

Castro had also made several other lengthy speeches over the past week.

Less than 10 minutes later, Castro was back behind the podium, asking the crowd not to worry, that he was merely tired and would return in the evening to finish his speech.

``Let me rest, sleep a few hours,″ Castro told the crowd. ``Last night I did not sleep at all. I am fine. We will see you tonight.″

Castro has always kept a busy work schedule that would exhaust the average young person, giving several lengthy speeches every week, and reportedly sleeping only a few hours a day _ if at all.

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