Healthier and stronger Castro meets comrade

HAVANA - Wearing his now-trademark tracksuit, Fidel Castro smiles happily and appears to vigorously embrace his longtime friend, Brazil's president.

The image, one of numerous photographs released on Wednesday, shows the 83-year-old former Cuban leader looking healthier and stronger than at many points since he took ill with an undisclosed ailment three-and-a-half years ago.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who met Castro, said the Cuban was "exceptionally well", Brazil's private Agencia Estado news agency reported.

Silva spent more than an hour discussing various topics with Castro, who ceded power to his brother Raul after undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in 2006.

Recent photographs released by Cuba's government have also shown a healthier-looking Castro.

Cuba's state television led its evening newscast with a report on the meeting, but did not beam any images of Castro until the 30-minute show's closing, when it displayed several still photographs of the former leader. The report said Castro and Silva discussed several matters, including the UN climate conference in Copenhagen. After that conference, Castro released a string of essays strongly criticising President Barack Obama for Washington's brokering of an accord that urges - but does not require - major polluters to make deeper emissions cuts.

Also visiting Cuba was Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, another close friend and confidant of Castro.

Silva, Chavez and Raul Castro met in Mexico on Tuesday for a "unity"summit. - Sapa-AP