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Castro accuses US of torturing spy

Fidel Castro has accused US authorities of torturing a convicted Cuban spy, telling a meeting of communist youths the agent had been placed in solitary confinement in California.

At the meeting was former castaway Elian Gonzalez, now 16, who could be seen listening intently to the ex-Cuban president when footage of the closed-door session aired on state-run television Friday night.

Mr Castro, who turns 84 on August 13, is suddenly making near daily appearances in and around Havana, after spending four years almost completely out of the public eye following emergency intestinal surgery that forced him to cede power to his younger brother Raul.

He has occasionally turned up in green fatigues similar to the military uniform that had been his trademark during nearly half a century in power. This time, however, Mr Castro wore a red shirt and grey trousers while speaking for a bit more than an hour in Havana's convention centre.

Looking relaxed and engaged, Mr Castro spoke about the case of Gerardo Hernandez, who is serving a double life sentence on counts of conspiracy to murder four Miami-based pilots who were killed by Cuban jets in 1996 when they were dispersing pro-democracy pamphlets on the island.

Hernandez is one of the so-called Cuban Five intelligence agents that Cuba said it sent to the US to infiltrate anti-Castro groups linked to 1990s hotel bombings and other terrorists attacks on Cuban soil.

The five were convicted in the US of spying.

Mr Castro said Hernandez was placed in solitary confinement at a prison in Victorville, California.

"Did he do anything? No, nothing," he said. "Four FBI officials met to decide and they decided. That's torture. There's nothing else to call it, it's torture, and its occurring in view of the whole world."

Mr Castro also said Hernandez was in need of medical treatment he was not receiving.

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