"Fidel Castro Will Never Die," said Hugo Chavez

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, close ally to Cuban Leader Fidel Castro, speaking at a public event on Saturday, denied persistent rumors that Castro had died.

Chavez was reacting to talk among Cuban exiles and echoed by foreign news outlets, especially in Florida, that the ailing Castro, 81, had passed away.

Castro, who turned 81 on August 13 with little celebration in Cuba, underwent intestinal surgery in July 2006 and handed power over temporarily to his brother Raul.

He has not been seen in public since before the operation, though he has appeared in photographs and eight videos, the last of which aired on June 5.

"Those who want him to die will be frustrated, because Fidel Castro will never die," said Chavez, one of the few who visited the revolutionary leader at his sickbed.

Chavez said that Castro "will always live among the people that fight for a better destiny. He will always live in the people of Cuba, of Venezuela, and of America."

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque on Thursday, while attending an event in Brazil, also denied talk of Castro's death.

Castro "is steady, on track with his recovery, showing discipline, a lot of dedication and a lot of activity, writing, reading and working," Perez Roque told AFP .

Chavez's remarks on Saturday came at an event aimed at supporting his new party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which brings together the different leftist groups that support him.

Critics accuse Chavez of emulating Castro, and trying to impose a Cuban-style communist regime in Venezuela.

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