New Doubts Over Ailing Castro's Participation in Nonaligned Summit

Cuba's Foreign Minister said Sunday he could not confirm Fidel Castro will host a dinner for visiting leaders as noted in a schedule released earlier in the day, raising new doubts over whether the ailing leader will participate in this week's Nonaligned Movement summit.

If Castro did host the dinner on Friday as listed in the schedule, it would mark his first public appearance since his surgery more than a month ago.

The mention of a dinner by Castro for visiting dignitaries in the schedule sent to international media Sunday morning initially seemed to end speculation over whether he will make any appearance at the gathering that opens Monday.

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But Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque's refusal to confirm that, and his subsequent comments, cast new doubts about Castro would participate.

"Fidel is recovering satisfactorily, the worst has been left behind," Perez Roque told a news conference.

"I cannot yet confirm his presence at the dinner," Perez Roque said. "I can confirm that the head of the Cuban delegation at that moment will be offering those dignitaries that dinner.

"If Fidel is not there, then Raul will act as host at the dinner," the foreign minister added, referring to the 80-year-old leader's brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro, 75, who is acting as Cuba's provisional leader while he recovers from surgery.

"Logically, the physical absence of Fidel in all of the summit work constitutes a notable loss," Perez Roque said. "All of us would like him to head the delegation and be there all the time. If that does not occur, we have made great preparations under his personal direction."

After the news conference, a difference version of the Nonaligned schedule was sent to international journalists permanently accredited in Cuba, with a note saying it was the "valid" version. Although the Friday night dinner was still listed, any mention of Castro hosting it had been removed.

Fidel Castro announced July 31 he had undergone emergency surgery for an undisclosed intestinal ailment and provisionally handed over power as Cuba's president and Communist Party head to his brother Raul.

Dozens of heads of state and government are expected for the summit starting Monday in Havana, during which Malaysia will turn over the chairmanship of the movement to Cuba for the next three years.

The nature of Castro's surgery and his specific ailment have been treated as a state secret, although photographs and statements from him have been released.

Earlier in the week, Castro said in a statement published in state media he would be able to meet with some visiting dignitaries, but gave the sense that those meetings would be small and private.

Since falling ill in late July, Castro has met privately three times with his good friend and key political ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and met privately last week with Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Photographs of Castro in his sickbed, and then later sitting up in a chair in his pajamas, taken during two of Chavez's visits were published in state newspapers in an apparent effort to assure Cubans that the man who has ruled Cuba for 47 years was getting better.

Early Sunday, Cuba's International Press Center sent the meeting schedule by e-mail to international news organizations based in Havana that are covering the event. The schedule for Friday read: "20:30 hours: Official welcome dinner offered by his Excellency Mr. Fidel Castro Ruz. ..."

International Press Center officials later said that version of the schedule was sent in error.

It was not immediately clear from the summit schedule if Castro would be involved in any of the work sessions.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also is scheduled to attend.

Representatives are coming from most of the 116 nonaligned nations in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

The only member that declined was Comoros Islands, which can't make it for financial reasons.

Among the well-known leaders attending are Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, and Bashar Assad of Syria, as well as Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh of India and Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand.

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