Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday said his close friend and ally Fidel Castro has "almost totally recovered" from his illness, and Cuba's foreign minister said the ailing leader is getting stronger every day.

Speaking at a televised news conference, Chavez said the 80-year-old Cuban leader's marked improvement is clear.

"Almost totally recovered is the very reliable information that I keep receiving," Chavez said.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Roque, traveling in Vietnam, said Castro had improved steadily.

"President Fidel Castro is recovering very well," Roque told reporters after an hour-long meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart, Pham Gia Khiem.

The 80-year-old Castro hasn't made any public appearances since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery last July, when he ceded his leadership responsibilities to his brother Raul, the Cuban defense minister.

Castro's condition and exact ailment remain a state secret, but he is widely believed to suffer from diverticular disease, a weakening of the walls of the colon that can cause sustained bleeding.

Roque said Castro was back to his pre-surgery weight, did regular rehabilitation exercises and had resumed some of his leadership duties.