Cuba frees prisoners, but Fidel steals spotlight

HAVANA, (Reuters) – As Cuba shipped off more freed  political prisoners to Spain, former leader Fidel Castro stayed  in the spotlight on Tuesday, making his third public appearance  in the past week after four years in seclusion.

The 83-year-old comandante met with economists in Havana’s  Center for Research on the World Economy to ask them to think  about how to create a “new civilization” after the coming  nuclear war he has predicted for several weeks, according to  state-run website www.cubadebate.cu.

It published photographs by his son Alex Castro of the  white-bearded, blue-shirted Castro sitting at the head of a  table presiding over the meeting. Unlike in most recent photos,  he was not wearing an athletic jacket.

He has been writing in Cuban media that nuclear war will  soon break out when the United States, in alliance with Israel,  tries to enforce international sanctions against Iran for its  nuclear activities.

Before the past few days, Castro had been seen only in a  occasional photographs and videos since undergoing intestinal  surgery in July 2006.

But on Saturday, first a blogger, then the government said  Castro had appeared on Wednesday at the National Center of  Scientific Investigations and ran photographs to prove it.

Then on Monday, Castro appeared in a videotaped interview  on Cuban television talking about his predicted war.

Intended or not, Castro’s appearances have drawn attention  away from Cuba’s largest release of political prisoners since  1998.

The freeing of 52 jailed dissidents, viewed internationally  as a possible turning point for Cuba, began on Monday night  when the first seven were flown to Spain.

Spanish officials said three or four more were to go on  Tuesday to Spain, which agreed to accept them in negotiations  last week.

They were expected to leave Havana on Tuesday night  flights, but Cuban officials were mum on the topic.

The release is the product of a new dialogue between the  Cuban government and Catholic Church, which began in earnest in  a May 19 meeting between President Raul Castro and Cardinal  Jaime Ortega, leader of Cuba’s Catholics.

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