Sunday, December 31, 2006

Costa Rican president won't retract criticism of Castro

San Jose, Costa Rica (AP) - Costa Rican President Oscar Arias refused to back off his harsh criticism of Cuban leader Fidel Castro and said Latin American countries need to help the communist-ruled island make a smooth transition to democracy following Castro's death, according to remarks published Thursday.

In interviews with the daily newspapers La Nacion and Al Dia, Arias also said he had "never heard so many rude epithets at the same time" as those the Cuban Government unleashed at the president, whom it referred to as an "opportunistic clown" and a "vulgar mercenary" of US officials on Wednesday.

The Cuban Government statement reacted to Arias' remarks last week comparing Castro to the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The 80-year-old Castro governed communist Cuba without interruption for more than 47 years until he temporarily ceded his powers to his younger brother Raul following intestinal surgery on July 31.

The Washington-friendly Arias, who won the Nobel Peace Price in 1987 for helping broker an end to Central America's civil wars, has exchanged salvos with Cuban officials since he was elected earlier this year.

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