19 FEBRUARY 2008

After ruling Cuba for almost 50 years, the country's leader Fidel Castro has announced he's stepping down as president of the Caribbean nation.

In a letter published in the middle of the night on the website of the country's official Communist Party newspaper, Granma, the 81-year-old, who has been suffering from ill health, confirmed he won't take on another five-year term when the National Assembly meets this Sunday.

"It would betray my conscience to take up a responsibility that requires mobility and total devotion, that I am not in a physical condition to offer," wrote Mr Castro, who hasn't been seen in public for 18 months.

When the National Assembly meets it is expected to transfer presidential control to Mr Castro's younger brother, 76-year-old Raul. The president handed the day-to-day running of the country to his sibling in 2006 when he was recovering from emergency intestinal surgery.

Photo: ©
Mr Castro, pictured here in Havana last month, has announced he is retiring. He has ruled Cuba since leading the communist revolution in 1959 Photo: © AFP
Photo: ©
It's believed the ailing statesman's younger brother, Raul, who took charge of running of the country while the president recovered from emergency surgery in 2006, will step into his sibling's shoesPhoto: © Rex