Cuba allies join thousands to honour Castro in Havana
HUNDREDS of thousands of Cubans rallied for late communist leader Fidel Castro with Latin American and African leaders in Havana the night before his ashes are to be taken across the country.
They chanted “long live the revolution!” and “Fidel! Fidel!” on Tuesday at a packed Revolution Square, the vast esplanade where he gave so many of his legendary, marathon speeches.
A giant picture of a young, bearded Castro in his guerrilla uniform and rifle hung on the National Library as his brother and successor, Raul Castro, waved at the crowd.
“There are thousands of people in the square,” Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from the rally in Havana, said.
“The ceremony began with the national anthem, before that we saw some of the dignitaries, like Evo Morales of Bolivia and Jacob Zuma of South Africa, take their seats on the podium. They were cheered, applauded by everyone in the crowd.”
Leftist presidents Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua were also among foreign dignitaries to pay tribute to Castro.
Correa praised Castro’s ideology, telling the crowd: “We will keep fighting for these ideas. We swear!”
South African President Jacob Zuma hailed Castro as “one of the great heroes of the 20th century,” citing his opposition to apartheid and his deployment of Cuban troops to back Angola’s government against rebels in 1975.
Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto also flew in, but Colombian Juan Manuel Santos, whose government negotiated a peace deal with the Marxist FARC rebels in Havana, did not come as expected.
Representatives and supporters of revolutionary groups from around the world also attended the ceremony in Havana.
“In the crowd I have seen flags from the Bask country in Spain also a Sinn Fein flag from Ireland . . . groups that would have gained support of Fidel for their so-called revolutionary ideals were also present,” said Al Jazeera’s Fisher.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was the only European leader at the rally.
The leaders of Britain, Germany, France, Spain and Canada all sent others to represent them.
US President Barack Obama, who along with Raul Castro ended decades of enmity to restore diplomatic relations, did not attend. Obama’s senior advisor Ben Rhodes and the top US diplomat in Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, represented Washington, but without the status of a “presidential delegation.”
“We continue to have some significant concerns about the way the Cuban government currently operates, particularly with regard to protecting the basic human rights of the Cuban people,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Several other world leaders also shunned the tribute, highlighting the divisive legacy of the major Cold War player. Even the presidents of friendly nations such as Russia, China and Iran sent deputies instead of attending themselves.
China sent Vice President Li Yuanchao, while Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Cuban embassy in Beijing to pay his condolences, the country’s foreign ministry said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin skipped the ceremony but described Castro as a “true friend of Russia.”
The Kremlin said he held a different view on his legacy to that of US president-elect Donald Trump, who has called the Cuban leader “a brutal dictator.”
“Cubans are very aware that the likes of Jacob Zuma have made the effort to come here,” said Al Jazeera’s Fisher.
“But Americans have sent a national security advisor and their newly-minted ambassador as their delegation. The British have sent a junior foreign minister to the event. But the people in Cuba aren’t that bothered, what really matters to them is that they themselves mark the life of Fidel Castro.”
The Cuban government, still essentially dedicated to Castro’s political vision despite some economic reforms under Raul Castro, has declared nine days of mourning. That included a two-day commemoration in Havana, where tens of thousands of Cubans have waited in long lines to pay their respects in Revolution Square.
Castro — who ruled from 1959 until an illness forced him to hand power to his brother Raul in 2006 — died on Friday at age 90. The cause of death has not been announced.
“Fidel would be proud to see the square overflowing like this, especially with young people,” said 46-yearold teacher Tatiana Gonzalez.
The rally followed two days during which Cubans, encouraged by the government, streamed past a picture of Castro inside the square’s towering monument to independence hero Jose Marti.
They were also urged to sign an oath of loyalty to Castro’s revolution in books placed at schools and other public buildings.
After Tuesday’s ceremony, the urn holding Castro’s ashes will be taken on a “caravan of freedom” across the country, retracing the route his guerrilla movement took to celebrate the toppling of dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
The commemorations end Sunday, when the urn will be laid to rest in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, where 19th century independence hero Marti is buried. — Al Jazeera. KAMPALA — Ugandan prosecutors charged a tribal king with murder on Tuesday, accusing him of backing a separatist militia in his kingdom where weekend fighting between his guards and security forces left at least 87 people dead.
The Rwenzururu King Charles Wesley Mumbere is accused of commanding a militia from his palace with the aim of creating an independent state straddling Uganda and the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Court sat this afternoon. He has been charged with murder,” Uganda’s judiciary spokesman Solomon Muyita said, without giving further details.
Police and army officers stormed Mumbere’s palace in the western town of Kasese on Sunday in a hail of gunfire and explosions, dragging him out and placing him under arrest after he failed to accept an ultimatum to disband his royal guards, the authorities have said.
According to police, fighting first broke out on Saturday when a joint patrol of police and troops was attacked by the royal guards and quickly spread to surrounding towns.
Kasese district police commander Sam Odong said another 25 bodies had been found on Monday in towns outside Kasese, however it was not clear whether they were civilians or royal guards.
Police had earlier reported that 16 police officers and 46 guards were killed in the weekend unrest, bringing the total death toll to 87. Another 139 guards have been arrested. Amnesty International on Monday expressed alarm at what “appears to be shocking examples of unlawful killings and a complete disregard for human rights during the arrests”.
The Rwenzururu kingdom, of the Bakonzo tribe, is a modern one.
It began as a separatist movement of the same name when the Bakonzo — tired of being subjected to the rule of another tribe given preference under British rule — declared its own kingdom in 1962.
The move led to years of bloodshed until a settlement was reached in 1982 in which the movement laid down arms in return for a degree of local autonomy.
President Yoweri Museveni officially recognised the kingdom in 2009.
However, many in the region still feel marginalised by the government and want to create their own state known as the Yiira Republic, uniting the Bakonzo and its sister tribe, the Banande, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Uganda’s Internal Affairs Minister General Jeje Odongo told a press conference that “claims and counter-claims over land rights between the Bakonzo and other communities is alleged to be one other cause of the conflict” in the region. He said a wave of attacks was carried out in 2014, leaving nearly 100 people dead — mostly attackers from a group known as “Youth of the Kingdom”.
“In the recent wave of violence the attackers have graduated into a militia which is trained, uniformed, armed, camped, and under a command and control structure. This new structure is composed of “KilhumiraMutima” (the stronghearted and keepers of a secret),” he said.
He said regional security authorities met on November 21 to decide to dismantle camps set up by the militia, spurring a surge of attacks on police stations and posts in the region by the fighters who retreated into the palace.
Odongo said machine guns, pistols, machetes, spears and petrol bombs had been found in the palace.
The kingdom has denied any links to the alleged militia. “At the moment the institution is not ready to give a statement,” said palace spokesman Clarence Bwambale.
“We can’t have the figures of our people killed because we have been denied access to the palace... but definitely we lost many people.”
Kasese district commissioner James Mwesigye on Tuesday offered amnesty to members of the royal guards and alleged militia who turned themselves in, saying they would “be handled as children who went astray and have returned to the fold”. — AFP
King Charles Wesley Mumbere