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Cuba postpones historic handover from Castro to new president

Cuba's President Raul Castro (L) and Cuba's First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel are seen during the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, December 21, 2017. Omara García Mederos/ACN/Handout via REUTERS

(reuters_tickers)

By Nelson Acosta and Sarah Marsh

HAVANA (Reuters) - Communist-run Cuba's parliament extended its legislative period by two months to April on Thursday, delaying the historic transition from Raul Castro to a new president, state-run media reported.

The national assembly, which meets twice a year, put the delay down to havoc wrought in September by Hurricane Irma, which tore across the island lifting roofs, uprooting trees and flooding low-lying coastal areas.

Some Cuba watchers believe it is more due to concerns about ensuring stability in the handover from the leaders of the 1959 revolution that ousted a U.S.-backed dictator to a new generation.

Castro and his late, older brother Fidel have led the country for nearly 60 years. Their heir apparent, First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, was born the year after the revolution and has a much weaker public profile.

Cuba had already delayed municipal elections originally planned for October by a month due to Hurricane Irma which Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas said on Friday had caused damage worth the equivalent of $13.2 billion (9.87 billion pounds).

Traditionally Cuba evaluates damages from natural disasters in dollars on the assumption that a peso is equal to the dollar. Many other official exchange rates exist in Cuba valuing the peso at much less.

The political transition comes as Cuba faces a host of other challenges from declining aid from its socialist ally Venezuela to U.S. President Donald Trump's partial reversal of the U.S.-Cuban detente and tightening of the decades-old U.S. embargo.

Growth in tourism, transport and communications, agriculture and construction nonetheless drove a 1.6 percent expansion this year, Cabrisas told parliament.

The number of tourists visiting the Caribbean's largest island grew 19.7 percent on the year to 4.3 million in the first 11 months of the year, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero told parliament this week.

Cabrisas said the government forecast the economy to grow around 2 percent next year.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta; Additional Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Susan Thomas)

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