Empty seat

 

The seat usually occupied by the 80-year-old Castro in Havana's convention centre was empty at the opening meeting on Friday, which was led by his brother Raul Castro and other members of the island's Communist Party leadership.

 

Castro's prolonged absence has fuelled uncertainty about the future of the Western hemisphere's only communist state but party members seemed ready to move on.

   

"With Raul in charge, the revolution will continue to strengthen," said Enrique Gomez, a social worker at the National Assembly meeting.

   

Raul Castro, 75, the defence minister, took over the government temporarily on July 31 when emergency surgery forced his famous brother to relinquish power for the first time since Cuba's 1959 revolution.

   

Castro has been treated for an undisclosed illness. Video images released on October 28 showed the once towering revolutionary diminished to a frail and shuffling old man.