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"Viva Fidel!", Cubans begin mass mourning for Castro

HAVANA -- Hundreds of students massed at Havana University on Saturday to honor Fidel Castro, as nine days of official mourning began for the leader who dominated the island's political life for generations.

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People sign a condolences book for former Cuban leader Fidel Castro at the Cuban Embassy in Quito, Nov. 26, 2016. REUTERS / Kevin Granja

HAVANA - Hundreds of students massed at Havana University on Saturday to honor Fidel Castro, as nine days of official mourning began for the leader who dominated the island's political life for generations.

His younger brother and successor,President Raul Castro, told the country on state television on Friday that Fidel Castro had died 10:29 p.m., giving no cause of death.

Flags were flown at half mast and public shows and concerts were canceled. Castro's remains will be cremated, and his ashes toured around Cuba until his state funeral on Dec. 4.

Giant rallies are planned in Havana's Revolution Square and in the southern city of Santiago in honor of the late leader who died at age 90.

At Havana University, Castro's alma mater, students waved huge Cuban flags and shouted "Viva Fidel and Viva Raul."

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When Castro studied law there in the late 1940s and early 1950s, it was a hotbed of leftist politics, setting him on a revolutionary path leading to his toppling of U.S.-backed President Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

At the Havana University rally, a local leader of the student federation dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt, shouted "Fidel isn't dead because the people are Fidel. I am Fidel," a refrain quickly chanted by the crowd.

"(We're here) for everything Fidel has done since the triumph of the revolution, said Raul Alejandro Palmeros, another student. "Fidel put Cuba on the map, and made Cuba a paradigm for the people of the world, especially the poor and the marginalized."

Cuban state television said other student associations and the women's federation had organized smaller rallies to mourn Fidel Castro and pledge support to the revolution.

Castro largely disappeared from the public eye after a 2006 intestinal illness that almost killed him. He formally handed over power to Raul Castro in 2008 but was still a major presence on the island.

"This is news that nobody is prepared to hear, especially not about Comandante Fidel," said Havana resident Rosario Garcia. (Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Mike Collett-White and W Simon)

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