Raul Castro succeeds Fidel as Communist Party chief

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Cuban President Raul Castro has been appointed head of the ruling Communist Party, succeeding his elder brother, revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, who held the post since the party's founding in 1965.

The historic but expected transition was finalized in a party central committee vote aired on state television at the closing ceremony of the Sixth Communist Party Congress, attended by an ageing Fidel Castro who had confirmed his resignation hours earlier.

While Raul Castro had raised hopes during the congress that a new generation of leaders could step up as the party approved a raft of reform measures, the party's Central Committee, appointed Monday night, named Vice President Jose Ramon Machado, 80, as the new second secretary.

On Saturday, Raul said he backed term limits of 10 years for the top leadership spots, in a country he and his brother have led for more than five decades.

In his article early Tuesday confirming he was no longer the party leader, Fidel wrote that he supported the stepping aside of some of the older luminaries in the party, adding that "the most important thing was that I did not appear on that list."

"I have received too many honors," he said. "I never thought I would live so long."

Raul, who himself turns 80 in June, was widely expected to take over as the party's new first secretary from his brother, who handed the presidential reins to Raul Castro in 2006 and made a rare public appearance Tuesday at the closing ceremony of the congress.

The 84-year-old Fidel, surrounded by bodyguards and aides and dressed in a blue tracksuit, walked in to a roar of applause by some 1,000 delegates.

The Communist Party Congress, Cuba's first in 14 years, has approved a series of economic reforms aimed at injecting a modicum of the free market into the island's depressed economy.

Reforms include the eventual trimming of a million state jobs and the decentralization of the agricultural sector. Many of the measures have already been adopted over the past year, with the Congress now formally approving them.

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