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Castro's appearance belies rumors of death or illness

HAVANA -- Cuban President Fidel Castro has appeared to be in goo health during the Communist Party congress this week and joked about rumors in the United States that he is dead or gravely ill.

'A few days ago (news reports) informed me I was dead, but very, very dead.

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I am almost participating at my own burial,' Castro said in a two-hour speech Friday night at an international education congress.

Castro apologized for having a cold, calling it 'a flu, an imperialist flu ... it was a pro-Yankee virus.'

Castro recently announced he gave up smoking his trademark cigars and he looked fit and trim Tuesday when he gave a seven-hour speech to the Communist Party's third congress -- a speech shorter by five hours than the one he gave at the last congress in 1980.

Castro, an avid sports enthusiast who turns 60 on Aug. 13, did not appear to have put on weight since he gave up smoking.

His hair and beard have greyed considerably and are trimmed short but Cubans said his appearance has not changed in recent months.

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