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Castro falls, breaks knee and arm

From Lucia Newman and Elise Labott

Fidel Castro leaves a rostrum just before falling.
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Fidel Castro breaks his knee and fractures an arm after tripping onstage.
Fidel Castro

HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -- President Fidel Castro broke his left knee and right arm in a fall Wednesday after giving a graduation speech in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara.

The 78-year-old leader missed a step down from a rostrum as he was walking back to his seat and crashed down heavily.

In an effort to calm the crowd, Castro took the microphone after a few minutes, saying, "Just so that there won't be any speculation, it seems that I broke my knee."

He apologized for any concern he may have caused those who care about him, and then joked about how his spill was likely to make headlines in the international media.

Looking shaken, the Cuban leader of 45 years was taken to a hospital, where he said he would probably get a cast. He promised to get back to normal as soon as possible.

Castro's health has been the subject of widespread speculation for the past seven years. At times, he has appeared thin or tired and has disappeared from the public eye for extended periods.

Castro's health is considered a state secret and is not discussed by the government.

In Washington, the Bush administration used the opportunity of Castro's accident to reiterate its desire to see him removed from power.

"We heard that Castro fell," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "I guess you'd have to check with the Cubans to find out what's broken about Mr. Castro. We, obviously, have expressed our views about what's broken in Cuba."

When asked if he wished Castro a speedy recovery, Boucher said, "No."

"The situation in Cuba is of our primary concern," Boucher said. "The situation of Mr. Castro is of little concern to us, but, unfortunately, of enormous importance to the people of Cuba, who have suffered very long under his rule. And we think that the kind of rule that Cuba has had should be ended."

While declining to speculate on who might rule a post-Castro Cuba, Boucher said the Cuban people "deserve democracy."

"They, like everybody else in the world, deserve a chance to choose their own fate and future," he said, noting there is a Bush administration effort, led by Secretary of State Colin Powell, "to identify what we can do to hasten that day and what we can do when that day comes to support the people of Cuba as they found their own democracy, which is something we have strong confidence that they will someday be able to do."

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