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Castro cites '06 departure

Fidel Castro said Tuesday he resigned five years ago from all his official positions, including head of Cuba's Communist Party, a pre-eminent job in the island's political pantheon that he was thought to still hold.

It was the first time the revolutionary icon, 84, has said he no longer heads the Communist Party, which he has led since its creation in 1965. The Communist Party website still lists him as first secretary, with his brother, President Raul Castro, listed as second secretary.

Castro wrote in an opinion article that when he became ill in 2006, "I resigned without hesitation from my state and political positions, including first secretary of the party, and I never tried to exercise those roles again."

Castro's comments come just weeks ahead of a crucial Communist Party Congress, in which it was widely expected that a new party leader would be picked.

In another development, the Catholic Church said Tuesday that the Cuban government will release the last two political prisoners held since a 2003 crackdown on dissent.

The landmark decision will clear Cuban prisons of the last of 75 prominent intellectuals, opposition leaders and activists whose imprisonment has long soured relations with the outside world.

The last two men to be released are Felix Navarro and Jose Daniel Ferrer, activists who had each been sentenced to 25 years in prison.

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