Cuba's Raul Castro winding down Vietnam visit

Cuban President Raul Castro paid his respects to late Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh on Monday, laying a wreath of flowers at his mausoleum as he wrapped up a four-day state visit.

The 81-year-old's trip is aimed at boosting ties with a longtime communist ally that has boomed economically after embracing capitalism.

The Cuban president was welcomed by Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong on Sunday at the presidential palace in Hanoi.

He later held talks with President Truong Tan Sang and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. On Monday he met with National Assembly chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung, and he was to wrap up his visit Tuesday morning.

"Our relationship has developed over many years based on our rich history," Castro said. "When one country is in need, we help each other and we share a lot of common opinions about global issues."

Last week, Castro visited China, where he signed a series of agreements, including a grant and an interest-free loan to help boost the Cuban economy.

His Asian tour is seen as an opportunity to view a mix of capitalism and socialism at work. Vietnam and China have embraced market economy reforms and experienced rapid growth, while Cuba has remained largely poor.

Vietnam began revamping its system in the mid-1980s after failed collective farming left the country impoverished after the Vietnam War. Today, it is the world's second-largest rice exporter, supplying the bulk of Cuba's imports of the staple grain.

Castro, 81, last visited Vietnam in 2005 as defense minister before replacing his older brother, Fidel, as president in 2008. Two-way trade totaled $274 million last year.

The trip comes amid heightened tensions between Vietnam and China over disputed territory in the South China Sea.

On Sunday, a crowd of about 200 Vietnamese protesters marched through downtown Hanoi demanding that China stay out of Vietnam's waters. Demonstrations are rare in Vietnam, and police typically quash any form of political dissent.