Leaders pay tribute to Fidel Castro, but critics scathing of 'tyrant'

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World leaders paid tribute on Saturday to Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States, but in death just as in life he divided opinion, and critics labeled him a "tyrant".

Castro died on Friday aged 90, his younger brother and successor Raul Castro announced on state television.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union which had long acted as an economic and political prop for Cuba, said Castro left a lasting mark on his country and on world history.

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A man looks at newspapers' front pages at a kiosk in La Paz on November 26, 2016, the morning after Cuba's historic revolutionary leader Fidel Castro died aged 90. One of the world's longest-serving rulers and modern history's most singular characters, Castro defied 11 US administrations and hundreds of assassination attempts. / AFP / AIZAR RALDES (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 26, 2016: Flowers at the Cuban Embassy in Moscow in memory of Cuba's revolutionary leader and former president Fidel Castro. Castro died aged 90 on November 25, 2016. Artyom Geodakyan/TASS (Photo by Artyom Geodakyan\TASS via Getty Images)
People watch a TV broadcasting news about the death of Fidel Castro of Cuba at the George F. L. Charles airport in Castries, St. Lucia, November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida, U.S. November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Javier Galeano
The Cuban flag flies half-mast as police prevent supporters of late Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro from advancing towards anti-Castro demonstrators outside the Cuban Embassy in Madrid, Spain, November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A woman combs her hair as a television set shows the news of the death of Cuba's former President Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE
People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida, U.S. November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Javier Galeano
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 26, 2016: Flowers at the Cuban Embassy in Moscow in memory of Cuba's revolutionary leader and former president Fidel Castro. Castro died aged 90 on November 25, 2016. Artyom Geodakyan/TASS (Photo by Artyom Geodakyan\TASS via Getty Images)
People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida, U.S. November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Javier Galeano
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 26, 2016: Flowers at the Cuban Embassy in Moscow in memory of Cuba's revolutionary leader and former president Fidel Castro. Castro died aged 90 on November 25, 2016. Artyom Geodakyan/TASS (Photo by Artyom Geodakyan\TASS via Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 26, 2016: Flowers at the Cuban Embassy in Moscow in memory of Cuba's revolutionary leader and former president Fidel Castro. Castro died aged 90 on November 25, 2016. Artyom Geodakyan/TASS (Photo by Artyom Geodakyan\TASS via Getty Images)
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"Fidel held his ground and strengthened his country at the time of the harshest American blockade, at the time of massive pressure on him," Gorbachev was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.

"Nevertheless he led out his country from the blockade to the path of self-sustained and independent development."

In a telegram of condolence to Raul Castro, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the late leader an "inspiring example for many countries".

"Fidel Castro was a frank and tried and true friend of Russia," the Kremlin quoted the message as saying.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a statement that: "the Chinese people have lost a close comrade and a sincere friend".

Xi hailed Castro for his contribution to the development of communism both in Cuba and around the world.

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Pope Francis (L) and former Cuban President Fidel Castro hold hands in Havana, Cuba, September 20, 2015. Picture taken September 20. REUTERS/Alex Castro/AIN/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. IT IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Former Cuban president Fidel Castro and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill meet in Havana February 13, 2016. REUTERS/JUVENTUD REBELDE/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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In Venezuela, a long-time ally of Cuba and staunch opponent of the political stance of the United States, President Nicolas Maduro said Castro had inspired and would continue to inspire his country.

"We will keep on winning and keep fighting. Fidel Castro is an example of the fight for all the people of the world. We will go forward with his legacy," Maduro told television station Telesur by telephone.

In Bolivia, where Ernesto "Che" Guevara died in 1967 in a failed bid to export Cuba's revolution, President Evo Morales said in a statement: "Fidel Castro left us a legacy of having fought for the integration of the world's peoples ... The departure of Comandante Fidel Castro really hurts."

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said: "A great has left us. Fidel has died. Long live Cuba! Long live Latin America!"

ROLE IN AFRICA

South African President Jacob Zuma had warm words, thanking the Cuban leader for his help and support in the struggle to overthrow apartheid.

"President Castro identified with our struggle against apartheid. He inspired the Cuban people to join us in our own struggle against apartheid," Zuma said in a statement.

French President Francois Hollande mourned the loss of a major figure on the world stage and welcomed the rapprochement between Havana and Washington, while noting concerns over human rights under the Castro regime.

"Fidel Castro was a towering figure of the 20th century. He incarnated the Cuban revolution, in both its hopes and subsequent disillusionments," Hollande said in a statement.

"France, which condemned human rights abuses in Cuba, had equally challenged the U.S. embargo on Cuba, and France was glad to see the two countries re-establish dialogue and open ties between themselves," added the Socialist party leader.

Hollande met Fidel Castro in May, 2015 during the first ever visit by a French head of state to Cuba since the Cuban revolution.

"TYRANT" IS GONE

In contrast, the reaction from some Cubans living in the United States was scathing and celebratory.

U.S. Congress representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami, said in a statement: "A tyrant is dead and a new beginning can dawn on the last remaining communist bastion of the Western Hemisphere."

In Miami, in the area surrounding the Versailles Restaurant where many exiles who fled the Cuban revolution live, people took to the streets in their cars in the early hours of Saturday morning to celebrate Castro's death.

Hundreds of people gathered waving flags, banging pots and pans and carrying umbrellas to shield them from steady rainfall.

"This is the happiest day of my life, Cubans are finally free," said Orlidia Montells, an 84-year-old woman.

(Additional reporting by Simon Gardner in MEXICO CITY, Mfuneko Toyana in JOHANNESBURG, Sudip Kar-Gupta in PARIS, DUBAI newsroom, and Nicole Martinez in MIAMI; Writing by Hugh Lawson; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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