Former Soviet leader Gorbachev hails Castro for 'strengthening' Cuba

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Cuban president Fidel Castro (L) alongside General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev (R) during the official ceremony for Gorbachev's arrival in Havana on April 2, 1989 play

Cuban president Fidel Castro (L) alongside General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev (R) during the official ceremony for Gorbachev's arrival in Havana on April 2, 1989

(AFP/File)

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Saturday hailed Fidel Castro, the Cuban socialist icon who has died aged 90, for "strengthening" his island nation.

"Fidel stood up and strengthened his country during the harshest American blockade, when there was colossal pressure on him and he still took his country out of this blockade to a path of independent development," Interfax news agency quoted Gorbachev as saying.

"In the past years, even when Fidel Castro was not formally in power, his role in strengthening the country was huge."

Gorbachev added that Castro would be remembered as a "prominent politician" who managed to leave a "deep mark in the history of mankind."

The Kremlin has not yet reacted to Castro's death.

Ties between Moscow and Havana suffered after the collapse of the USSR as the massive flow of financial aid from the Soviet Union dried up, delivering a major economic blow to the country.

Cuban President Raul Castro, who took power after his elder brother Fidel was hospitalised in 2006, said that the revolutionary leader's remains will be cremated early on Saturday.

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