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Castro calls U.S. terror claim a 'slanderous lie'

Fidel Castro
Cuban President Fidel Castro, center, seemed to be directing his comments toward Americans at a rally Saturday in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba.  

SANCTI SPIRITU, Cuba (CNN) -- Cuban President Fidel Castro on Saturday rejected U.S. President Bush's characterization of the Caribbean island as a nation that exports terrorism and said that his country is a friend to people of the United States.

"I was asked by many citizens whether I was going to respond," Castro told an enthusiastic rally of about 300,000 people in a rural area of central Cuba more than 200 miles southeast of Havana. "We are all going to respond!"

Though he was addressing a group of mostly farmers, Castro appeared to direct his comments to Americans opposed to the four-decade-long trade embargo against the communist nation.

"We are men of ideas, not fanatics," he said. "We have never sowed hatred against the people of the United States despite the aggressions of her government against us."

Two weeks ago, a U.S. State Department official accused Cuban scientists of making biochemical weapons available to countries hostile to the United States. During a visit to Cuba last week, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he had seen no evidence to support that allegation.

Castro rejected the accusation as a "diabolical invention" and an "infamous and slanderous lie."

He also lashed out at the State Department's placement of Cuba this week on its list of nations that sponsor state terrorism.

"Apart from the moral and political damage that this does, what hurts us the most is the idea that one single American citizen could think that from Cuban territory any harm would be waged against them," Castro said.

"Not a single drop of blood has ever fallen anywhere in the world because of any terrorist act introduced from our country."

The United States cannot make the same claim, he added.

It is barriers imposed by the U.S. government that keep the American people from benefiting from Cuban efforts in biotechnology, Castro said. "If it weren't for that absurd and ridiculous embargo, the United States could receive vaccinations and other medical procedures from Cuba that could help save American lives."

Far from wanting to hurt people with their medical research, the Cuban biotechnology efforts are intended simply to help people, he said.

Castro made no reference to a demand made by Bush in a Monday speech that the Cuban leader introduce sweeping economic and political changes, including free elections and freedom for political prisoners, before the United States will lift its embargo.

At 20 minutes, Castro's speech was uncharacteristically short. But it was warmly received by the crowd, with people interrupting him frequently with shouts of "Viva Fidel!"

Castro's appearance was also uncharacteristic. Cuban government officials address rallies in different places around the country on Saturdays, but Castro's brother Raul usually oversees the rallies, and the president rarely makes an appearance.

-- CNN Havana Bureau Chief Lucia Newman contributed to this story.




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