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Sunday August 13, 2006

Russia's Putin wishes Castro a happy 80th birthday


MOSCOW (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday congratulated Cuban leader Fidel Castro on his 80th birthday, praising him as one of the world's most outstanding politicians, the Kremlin said. 

The Russian president also wished Castro, who was forced to step aside as president two weeks ago because of illness, a speedy recovery. 

"You are well known in Russia as one of the most authoritative and outstanding political leaders today,'' Putin said in a telegram. 

He added that Russia and Communist Cuba would continue to be "active partners, with the aim of developing ties in various spheres in the interests of both our peoples and ensuring peace and stability.'' 

Russia in recent years has sought to revive relations with its Soviet-era ally. In 2000, Putin became the first post-Soviet Russian leader to visit Cuba. 

Moscow has also forged ties with other countries viewed as hostile in Washington, including Iran and Venezuela, which has signed multi-billion-dollar deals to buy Russian fighter jets, military helicopters and Kalashnikov assault rifles. 

Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who shares the anti-U.S. views of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and Castro, also sent a congratulatory message to the Cuban president. 

Lukashenko, dubbed "Europe's last dictator'' in Washington, has been in power in his tightly-controlled former Soviet nation since 1994. He had warm words for Castro's efforts to resist "diktat'' in world affairs - a thinly-veiled dig at alleged U.S. hegemony - saying that Belarus shared the same goal.-AP

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