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Archive for Saturday, February 22, 2003

Castro visits communist Vietnam

February 22, 2003

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— Cuban President Fidel Castro arrived Friday in Vietnam to meet with his communist ally, marking his first visit to the Asian nation in nearly a decade.

Hundreds of Vietnamese children greeted the famed communist leader like a rock star, screaming and cheering as he arrived at Hanoi's airport.

Castro, 76, is scheduled to meet with an array of officials this weekend, including legendary Vietnamese Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, the mastermind of Vietnam's guerrilla war against the United States.

His comrades here have said they're prepared for a weekend of strengthening old ties and expanding new ones in areas such as trade.

Castro also will pay tribute at Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum and visit with students at a university.

The trip is part of a three-country Asian tour that will include stops in China and Malaysia, where he will attend next week's Non-Aligned Movement summit.

Waving at the crowd, Castro was driven through a human tunnel of uniformed students Friday, who waited nearly five hours for a glimpse of the leader after his flight was delayed by a last-minute meeting in Cuba.

But the wait didn't sour the mood at Hanoi's airport. Little boys dressed in uniforms pounded on drums, trumpets blared and dozens of young girls dressed in traditional ao dais -- long silk tunics worn over loose pants -- smiled and waved.

"I wanted to come here to see Fidel Castro with my own eyes," said Dang Anh Huy, 16. "I don't know a lot about Fidel, but I have heard about him from my older brother and I'm excited to see him."

Voices blurted out the words "Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh," one of the country's most famous songs.

"I feel very honored and privileged to welcome Fidel Castro," said Nguyen Thu Hien, 15. "Vietnam and Cuba have been joined a long time."

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