Ailing Castro Looks Frail, Alert in Latest Photo Released

Fidel Castro looks thin and frail but alert in a photograph from last month posted on the Web site of the Russian Orthodox Church and obtained by the Associated Press on Thursday.

The ailing 82-year-old former president is seen standing and peering at the camera with a hint of surprise on his face. His gray hair is combed back and his wispy gray beard is neatly trimmed. As if for support, he is holding onto the arm of Metropolilitan Kirill, the church's top foreign relations official.

The church said the picture was taken Oct. 20, when Kirill was in Havana for the consecration of a new Orthodox cathedral.

Cuban state media covered that meeting, but did not release any images. It was the first image of Castro published since June 17, when government-controlled broadcast showed him chatting in a garden during a visit by his close friend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The latest image shows Castro wearing a black and white exercise suit, a variation on the red and blue tracksuit that has become his standard uniform since he underwent emergency intestinal surgery and disappeared from public view in July 2006.

He is suffering from an unknown illness and has been holed up in a secret location. As with most other images, the Orthodox church's photo shows him indoors, providing few clues to the exact location.

Raul Castro, Fidel's hand-picked successor for nearly five decades, formally succeeded his brother as president this year.