Cuba’s Raul Castro to step down in 5 years
HAVANA — Raul Castro announced Sunday that he will step down as Cuba’s president in 2018 following a final five-year term, for the first time putting a date on the end of the Castro era. He tapped rising star Miguel Diaz-Canel as his top lieutenant and first in the line of succession.
The 81-year-old Castro also said he hopes to establish two-term limits and age caps for political offices including the presidency — an astonishing prospect for a nation led by Castro or his older brother Fidel since their 1959 revolution.
The 52-year-old Diaz-Canel is now a heartbeat from the presidency and has risen higher than any other Cuban official who didn’t directly participate in the heady days of the revolution.
“This will be my last term,” Castro said, his voice firm.
In his 35-minute speech, Castro hinted at other changes to the constitution, some so dramatic that they will have to be ratified by the Cuban people in a referendum. Still, he scotched any idea that the country would soon abandon socialism, saying he had not assumed the presidency in order to destroy Cuba’s system.
Pope Benedict XVI’s last Sunday blessing draws large crowds
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI bestowed his final Sunday blessing of his pontificate on a cheering crowd in St. Peter’s Square, explaining that his waning years and energy made him better suited to the life of private prayer he soon will spend in a secluded monastery than as leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
On Thursday evening, the 85-year-old German-born theologian will become the first pope to have resigned from the papacy in 600 years.
Sunday’s noon appearance from his studio window overlooking the vast square was his next-to-last appointment with the public of his nearly eight-year papacy. Tens of thousands of faithful and other admirers have already asked the Vatican for a seat in the square for his last general audience Wednesday.
Perhaps emotionally buoyed by the warm welcome, thunderous applause and the many banners reading “Grazie” (Thanks) held up in the crowd estimated by police to number 100,000, Benedict looked relaxed and sounded energized, in sharp contrast to his apparent frailty and weariness of recent months.
In a strong and clear voice, Benedict told the pilgrims, tourists and Romans in the square that God had called him to dedicate himself “even more to prayer and meditation,” which he will do in a monastery being renovated for him on the grounds behind Vatican City’s ancient walls.
US moves to salvage Syrian opposition talks
LONDON — The U.S. is frantically trying to salvage a Syrian opposition conference that John Kerry plans to attend this week during his first official overseas trip as U.S. secretary of state.
A senior Obama administration official said Sunday that Kerry has sent his top Syrian envoy to Cairo in hopes of convincing opposition leaders that their participation in the conference in Rome is critical to addressing questions from potential donors and securing additional aid from the United States and Europe.
Some members of the sharply divided Syrian Opposition Council are threatening to boycott Wednesday’s meeting, which is the centerpiece of Kerry’s nine-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East.
According to the official, U.S. envoy Robert Ford will say that the conference is a chance for foes of Syrian President Bashar Assad to make their case for new and enhanced aid — and get to know America’s new chief diplomat, who has said he wants to propose new ideas to pressure Assad into leave power.
The official was not authorized to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
By wire sources