|A woman carries a portrait of Fidel Castro during a ceremony for the Cuban hero's 85th birthday [AFP]
Cuba's Fidel Castro has turned 85 years old amid celebrations for the revolutionary legend who led his country for nearly 50 years before ill health led him from power in 2006.
Castro's birthday officially fell on Saturday, but the communist nation has been partying since Tuesday in his honour. The string of gala events culminated in a concert on Friday night titled "Serenade of Fidelity".
"What we say in the songs of our invited artists will be little next to what he deserves,'' Alfredo Vera, one of the organisers, told the Associated Press news agency on Friday.
"Congratulations, beloved and eternal comandante," he added.
Most of the events have been organised by the Guayasamin Foundation, named for the Ecuadoran painter Oswaldo Guayasamin, a close friend of Castro. The celebrations have reportedly included foreign dignitaries, celebrities and at least two dozen famous Latin America musicians.
So far, however, the guest of honour has not shown up.
New era for Cuba
A gregarious public speaker as president, Castro is only seen publicly these days in official still photographs and video footage, such as recent images showing him with his brother Raul and a convalescing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Castro seemed unsteady on his feet when he made a surprise showing at a Communist Party Congress in April, walking to his seat with the help of an aide.
It was at that same gathering that the party for the first time named a leadership council without him on it, as Castro left his last official position.
Castro's birthday comes as Latin America, which he hoped would adopt his revolution, has swung to the political left, with a wave of progressive governments taking power from Argentina to Nicaragua.
Chavez could make an appearance at his birthday celebrations, which coincide with the Havana carnival.
Castro has been a prolific writer of newspaper columns and books in recent years, including autobiographical accounts of the events that led him to take power in a 1959 revolution.
'Feeling of love'
Omara Portuondo, the Grammy-winning singer of Buena Vista Social Club fame, was the big draw for Friday's show at Havana's 5,000-seat Karl Marx theatre.
The playbill also included Venezuela's Cecilia Todd, Uruguay's Daniel Viglietti, Chile's Pancho Villa and Argentina's Liliana Herrero.
Even without attending, the night's real star was Fidel, whose defiance of the United Sates continues to inspire leftist activists around the world.
"It's a feeling of love. The serenade is a genre that is born out of love," Viglietti said at a news conference earlier this week.
"The political map has changed in Latin America,'' he added, "and Fidel is not innocent of responsibility for that".
Born in 1926 to a prosperous Spanish immigrant landowner and a Cuban mother who had been his housekeeper, Castro was the hero of the island's revolution which swept Fulgencio Batista from power in 1959.
A communist icon when the Cold War was at its height, the unrepentant anti-American and anti-imperialist leader is seen by supporters as a great revolutionary and by critics as a merciless dictator