Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro, one of the world’s longest-serving and most iconic leaders, has died aged 90.
His younger brother and successor as president Raul Castro announced the news on state television.
Castro toppled the government in 1959, introducing a Communist revolution. He defied the US for decades, surviving many assassination plots.
His supporters said he had given Cuba back to the people. Critics saw him as a dictator.
Ashen and grave, President Castro told the nation in an unexpected late night broadcast on state television that Fidel Castro had died and would be cremated later on Saturday.
“The commander in chief of the Cuban revolution died at 22:29 hours this evening (03:29 GMT Saturday),” he said.
There is to be several days of national mourning on the island.
Raul Castro ended the announcement by shouting the revolutionary slogan: “Towards victory, always!”
Barring the occasional newspaper column, Fidel Castro had essentially been retired from political life for several years.
In April, Fidel Castro gave a rare speech on the final day of the country’s Communist Party congress.
“I’ll soon be 90,” the former president said, adding that this was “something I’d never imagined”.
“Soon I’ll be like all the others, “to all our turn must come,” Fidel Castro said.
Castro was the longest serving non-royal leader of the 20th Century.
He temporarily handed over power to his brother in 2006 as he was recovering from an acute intestinal ailment. Raul Castro officially became president two years later.
News of his death left some in Havana stunned.
“I always said it couldn’t be,” said one woman, a government employee. “Even though they said it now, I say it can’t be.”
How he defied the US
Throughout the Cold War, Fidel Castro was a thorn in Washington’s side.
An accomplished tactician on the battlefield, he and his small army of guerrillas overthrew the military leader Fulgencio Batista in 1959 to widespread popular support.
Within two years of taking power, he declared the revolution to be Marxist-Leninist in nature and allied the island nation firmly to the Soviet Union.
Yet, despite the constant threat of a US invasion as well as the long-standing economic embargo on the island, Castro managed to maintain a communist revolution in a nation just 90 miles (145km) off the coast of Florida.
Despised by his critics as much as he was revered by his followers, he outlasted 10 US presidents and survived scores of attempts on his life by the CIA.
How has the world reacted?
Latin American leaders have been quick to pay tribute.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said Castro was a “great friend” of Mexico, while to Ecuador’s President Salvador Sanchez Ceren he was an “eternal companion”.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said “revolutionaries of the world must follow his legacy”.
The former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said: “Fidel stood up and strengthened his country during the harshest American blockade, when there was colossal pressure on him”.
But in Miami, where there is a large Cuban community, there have been celebrations in some parts of the city.
A Cuban exile group, the Cuban Democratic Directorate, said Castro left “legacy of intolerance” and had set up a “vicious totalitarian regime”.
Fidel Castro’s key dates
Fidel Castro (centre) and members of his leftist guerrilla movement in Havana. Photo: January 1959Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
1926: Born in the south-eastern Oriente Province of Cuba
1953: Imprisoned after leading an unsuccessful rising against Batista’s regime
1955: Released from prison under an amnesty deal
1956: With Che Guevara, begins a guerrilla war against the government
1959: Defeats Batista, sworn in as prime minister of Cuba
1961: Fights off CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles
1962: Sparks Cuban missile crisis by agreeing that USSR can deploy nuclear missiles in Cuba
1976: Elected president by Cuba’s National Assembly
1992: Reaches an agreement with US over Cuban refugees
2006: Hands over reins to brother Raul due to health issues, stands down as president two years later