End of era in Cuba as revolutionary Fidel Castro dies

Havana - Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro has died aged 90, prompting mixed grief and joy Saturday along with international tributes for the man whose iron-fisted rule defied the United States for half a century.

One of the world's longest-serving rulers and among modern history's most striking personalities, Castro survived 11 US administrations and hundreds of assassination attempts.

Fidel Castro crushed opposition at home from the moment he took power in 1959 to lead the Caribbean island through the Cold War. He stepped aside only in 2006 after intestinal surgery.

For defenders of the revolution, Castro was a hero who protected ordinary people against capitalist domination.

To opponents, including thousands of Cuban exiles living in the United States, he was a cruel communist tyrant.

Castro eventually lived to see the restoration of diplomatic ties with Washington last year.

President Raul Castro, who took power after his elder brother Fidel was hospitalised in 2006, announced the news on national television just after midnight Friday (0500 GMT Saturday).

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro dies aged 90

  • A man holds a picture of Fidel Castro as part of a tribute, following the announcement of the death of the Cuban revolutionary leader, in San Salvador, El Salvador.
  • Girls hold Cuban flags as part of a tribute following the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in San Salvador, El Salvador.
  • Cuban teachers participate in a tribute following the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in San Salvador, El Salvador.
  • Salvadoran doctors hold Cuban flag as part of a tribute, following the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.
  • A man holds a portrait of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and tHE Cuban national flag.
  • A car passes by a billboard reading "Long Live Free Cuba..." at the Revolution Square in Havana.
  • A man walks next to graffitis reading "Long live Fidel" and "Long live Raul" in a street of Havana, November 27, 2016, two days after Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro died.
  • A man looks at a graffiti reading "Long live Fidel. Homeland or Death" in Havana.
  • A local artist paints a portrait of Fidel Castro in front of a shop in downtown Havana, following the announcement of the death of the Cuban revolutionary leader.
  • A wreath is seen between pictures of Fidel Castro during a tribute ceremony, following the announcement of the death of the Cuban revolutionary leader, outside the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City, Mexico.
  • A supporter of Fidel Castro reacts as she attends a tribute ceremony, following the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader, outside the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City, Mexico.
  • Pictures of Fidel Castro are seen beside his name made with flowers during a tribute ceremony, following the announcement of the death of the Cuban revolutionary leader, outside the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City, Mexico.
  • Supporters of Fidel Castro hold Cuban flags and pictures of Castro as they attend a tribute ceremony, following the announcement of the death of the Cuban revolutionary leader, outside the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City, Mexico.
  • Women hold a banner that reads "Out Temer", referring to Brazil's President Michel Temer, in front of a painting of Cuba's former President Fidel Castro during a protest against a constitutional amendment, known as PEC 55, that limits public spending, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
  • Women hold banners with a painting of Cuba's former President Fidel Castro (C) and the phrases that read "Out Temer". The banner (C) reads "Fidel, always present".
  • A woman holds a banner with a sign of Cuba's former President Fidel Castro during a protest against a constitutional amendment, known as PEC 55, that limits public spending, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, November 27, 2016. The banner reads "Fidel, always present".
  • A woman holds a Brazilian flag beside a painting of Cuba's former President Fidel Castro during a protest against a constitutional amendment, known as PEC 55, that limits public spending, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
  • Marlon Mendez (10), who says he is an admirer of Cuba's former president Fidel Castro, poses inside his bedroom that is adorned with pictures of Castro, in Artemisa province.
  • A child plays in front of a mural of late former Cuban leader Fidel Castro at the market in Managua, Nicaragua.
  • A photograph of Cuba's former President Fidel Castro and Nicaraguan revolutionary and Sandinista leader Augusto C. Sandino are seen at the Ruben Dario National Theater in Managua.
  • A man holds up a sign while celebrating a day after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida.
  • People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida.
  • People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida.
  • People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida.
  • People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida.
  • Miami residents celebrate the death of Fidel Castro.
  • People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida.
  • Indian members of Leftists organisations carry placards bearing the image of former Cuban president Fidel Castro during a remembrance rally in Kolkata.
  • Indian members of Leftists organisations carry placards bearing the image of former Cuban president Fidel Castro during a remembrance rally in KolkatA.
  • Indian members of Leftists organisations carry placards bearing the image of former Cuban president Fidel Castro during a remembrance rally in Kolkata.
  • Indian members of Leftists organisations carry placards bearing the image of former Cuban president Fidel Castro during a remembrance rally in Kolkata.
  • The Cuban state TV broadcast in which current Cuban President Raul Castro announced the death of his brother Fidel Castro, in Havana, Cuba, 25 November 2016. Cuban former President Fidel Castro has died at the age of 90.
  • This handout photo taken and released by the Instituto Lula on February 25, 2014 in Havana shows former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva embracing former Cuban leader Fidel Castro (right) after giving him a Brazilian national football team jersey as a present.
  • Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro during a ceremony to pay hommage to national hero Jose Marti at the Jose Marti Memorial in Havana.
  • Former Cuban president Fidel Castro (facing the camera) speaking with former US president Jimmy Carter during a meeting in Havana.
  • Former Cuban President Fidel Castro addressing a crowd at the Emancipation statue in Bridgetown, Barbados.
  • Former Cuban President Fidel Castro meditating during the VII International Globalization Meeting in Havana.
  • This file photo taken on September 01, 1997 shows Cuban President Fidel Castro delivering a speech attacking media organizations and groups opposed to his government in the wake of rumours of his death in Havana.
  • Former Cuban president Fidel Castro gesturing in Havana as he discusses his request to the president of the International Olympic Committee for an investigation into the treatment of certain Cuban atheletes.
  • Former Cuban President Fidel Castro waving a Cuban flag during a May Day rally in Havana.
  • Former Cuban President Fidel Castro speaking to a crowd, holding a Cuban flag, in Sancti-Spiritus, some 340 km east of Havana.
  • This file photo taken on March 15, 1995 shows then Cuban President Fidel Castro (right) as he is welcomed by Danielle Mitterrand, the wife of then French President and founder of the "Fondation France Liberté", as they meet for breakfast shortly after his arrival in Paris.
  • Cuban President Fidel Castro addressing the United Nations Millennium Summit.
  • Former Cuban President Fidel Castro smokes a cigar during a meeting of the National Assembly in Havana, on December 2, 1976.
  • Former Cuban Fidel Castro (left), then 33 years old.
  • Former Cuban President Fidel Castro winks at a woman at the graduation of hundreds of Cuban art students at Havana's Sports City
  • Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States and for five decades defied U.S. efforts to topple him, died on Friday, state-run Cuban Television said. He was 90.
  • Castro had been in poor health since an intestinal ailment nearly killed him in 2006 and he formally ceded power to his younger brother Raul Castro two years later.
  • Transforming Cuba from a playground for rich Americans into a symbol of resistance to Washington, Castro outlasted nine U.S. presidents in power.
  • The bearded Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution and ruled Cuba for 49 years with a mix of charisma and iron will, creating a one-party state and becoming a central figure in the Cold War.
  • He was demonized by the United States and its allies but admired by many leftists around the world, especially socialist revolutionaries in Latin America and Africa.
  • His alliance with Moscow helped trigger the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, a 13-day showdown with the United States that brought the world the closest it has been to nuclear war.
  • Wearing green military fatigues and chomping on cigars for many of his years in power, Castro was famous for long, fist-pounding speeches filled with blistering rhetoric, often aimed at the United States.
  • Castro fended off a CIA-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 as well as countless assassination attempts.
  • Castro seen here with former US president Jimmy Carter.
  • Castro and Nelson Mandela.
  • Castro with Pope John Paul II
  • Castro with football legend Maradona.

"The commander in chief of the Cuban revolution died at 22:29 hours this evening," Raul Castro said in a solemn voice.

He gave no details of the cause of death. He said his brother would be cremated early Saturday.

The government decreed nine days of mourning.

From November 26 to December 4, "public activities and shows will cease, the national flag will fly at half-mast on public buildings and military installations," said a statement from the state executive.

Castro's ashes will be buried in the southeastern city of Santiago on December 4 after a four-day procession through the country, it added.

Castro's death drew strong reactions from world leaders.

"The name of this distinguished statesman is rightly considered the symbol of an era in modern world history," said Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telegram to Raul Castro.

Read also: What next for Cuba after Fidel Castro?

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said the late leader left a "deep mark in the history of mankind." "Comrade Castro will live forever," said Chinese President Xi Jinping in a message read on television. Castro was "a great man of our time... History and people will remember him." French President Francois Hollande said Castro "represented, for Cubans, pride in rejecting external domination." Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Cuba's main ally in the region, said on Twitter: "It is up to us to continue his legacy and carry his flag of independence." Argentine football legend Diego Maradona hailed Fidel Castro as "a second father." .

The White House said it extended a "hand of friendship" to the Cuban people.

But US President-elect Donald Trump wrote in a statment that the world was marking "the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades." Cuba's warming ties with the United States risk taking a hit under Trump.

He threatened before winning the election to reverse the two countries' historic 2014 rapprochement if Cuba didn't budge on the sensitive issue of human rights and free political prisoners.

Cuba says it refuses to be dictated to by foreign powers.

Read also: Fidel Castro, as seen by allies and enemies

In the streets of Miami, home to the bulk of the Cuban-American community, euphoric crowds waved flags and danced, banging on pots and drums and honking their car horns.

"It's sad that one finds joy in the death of a person - but that person should never have been born," said Pablo Arencibia, 67, a teacher who fled Cuba 20 years ago.

"Satan is now the one who has to worry," he added, because "Fidel is heading there and is going to try to get his job." Castro was loathed by many for stifling dissent, but loved by others for providing free universal healthcare and education.

"Losing Fidel is like losing a father - the guide, the beacon of this revolution," said Michel Rodriguez, a 42-year-old baker in Havana.

Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 as a black-bearded, cigar-chomping 32-year-old, in a revolution against former dictator Fulgencio Batista.

"When this war is over, a much longer greater war will begin: the war that I am going to wage against them," the United States, he had said in 1958.

"That will be my true destiny." Living by the slogan "socialism or death," Castro kept the faith to the end, even as the Cold War came and went.

He endured more than 600 assassination attempts, according to his aides, and the disastrous US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion attempt in 1961.

"If I am considered a myth, the United States deserves the credit," he said in 1988.

Castro was at the centre of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, as the world stood on the brink of nuclear war.

Read also: World reacts to death of Cuba's Fidel Castro

Born August 13, 1926 to a prosperous Spanish immigrant landowner and a Cuban mother of humble background, Castro was said to be a quick learner and a keen baseball player.

His formed a guerrilla opposition to the US-backed government of Batista, who had seized power in a 1952 coup.

After a failed uprising in 1953, Castro was put on trial. In a self-defence speech he said defiantly: "History will absolve me." After two years of prison Castro went into exile in Mexico and organised followers for their ultimately triumphant uprising.

On December 2, 1956 the rebels sailed to southeastern Cuba on the yacht Granma. Twenty-five months later, they ousted Batista and Castro was named prime minister.

He threw Cuba's lot in with the Soviet Union, which bankrolled his regime until 1989, when the Eastern Bloc's collapse sent Cuba's economy plunging.

Fidel ceded power to his younger brother Raul, now 85, in July 2006. The revolutionary icon underwent intestinal surgery and largely disappeared from public view.

Castro married three times and is known to have fathered eight children.

He was last seen in public on his 90th birthday on August 13.