HAVANA – Raul Castro announced Sunday that he will step down as Cuba’s president in 2018 following a final five-year term, for the first time putting a date on the end of the Castro era. He tapped rising star Miguel Diaz-Canel as his top lieutenant and first in the line of succession.
The 81-year-old Castro also said he hopes to establish two-term limits and age caps for political offices including the presidency – an astonishing prospect for a nation led by Castro or his older brother Fidel since the 1959 revolution.
Diaz-Canel, 52, has risen higher than any other Cuban official who didn’t directly participate in the heady days of the revolution.
This will be my last term, Castro said.
In his 35-minute speech, Castro scotched any idea that the country would soon abandon socialism, saying he had not assumed the presidency in order to destroy Cuba’s system.
I was not chosen to be president to restore capitalism to Cuba, he said. I was elected to defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism, not destroy it.
Since taking over from Fidel in 2006, Castro has instituted important economic and social changes, expanding private enterprise, legalizing a real estate market and relaxing travel restrictions.
Syrian Council may boycott meeting
Syrian rebels backed by captured tanks launched a fresh offensive on a government complex housing a police academy near the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, while the government hit back with airstrikes to try to protect the strategic installation, activists said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is frantically trying to salvage a Syrian opposition conference that John Kerry plans to attend this week during his first official overseas trip as U.S. secretary of state.
Some members of the sharply divided Syrian Opposition Council are threatening to boycott Wednesday’s meeting in Rome, which is the centerpiece of Kerry’s nine-nation tour of Europe and the Mideast.
Parliament election taking place in Italy
Italians were voting in a watershed parliamentary election Sunday and today that could shape the future of one of Europe’s biggest economies.
Leading the electoral pack is Pier Luigi Bersani, a former Communist who has shown a pragmatic streak in supporting tough economic reforms. On Bersani’s heels is Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire media mogul seeking an unlikely political comeback after being forced from the premiership by Italy’s debt crisis.
Then there’s the wild card: comic-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, whose protest movement against the entrenched political class has been drawing tens of thousands to rallies across Italy.
Conservative wins Cyprus presidency
Conservative candidate Nicos Anastasiades won Cyprus’ presidency Sunday by one of the widest margins in 30 years, promising to do what it takes to quickly secure a financial rescue package from international creditors and prevent the Mediterranean island nation from sliding into economic oblivion.
Anastasiades, 66, won the runoff election with 57.48 percent of the vote, well ahead of left-wing rival Stavros Malas, who nabbed 42.51 percent, final results showed.
Esteemed German conductor dies
German conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch, acclaimed for his musical brilliance and unpretentious leadership of the Bavarian State Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra, has died. He was 89.
The Munich-based Bavarian State Opera, which Sawallisch led from 1971 to 1992, said he died Friday at his home in Grassau, southern Germany. Sawallisch also conducted the Bayreuth Festival, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, La Scala in Milan and Tokyo’s NHK Orchestra.