Raul: I have right to retire

Havana, Feb. 22 (AP): Cuban President Raul Castro has unexpectedly raised the possibility of leaving his post, saying today that he is old and has a right to retire. But he did not say when he might do so or if such a move was imminent.

The Cuban leader is scheduled to be sworn in to a new five-year term on Sunday. Castro urged reporters to listen to his speech that day. "I am going to be 82 years old," Castro said at a joint appearance with visiting Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. "I have the right to retire, don't you think?"

When reporters continued to shout questions about his plans for the next five years, Castro replied: "Why are you so incredulous?" He said to listen carefully on Sunday. "It will be an interesting speech," he said. "Pay attention."

Castro's tone was light and his comments came in informal remarks at a mausoleum dedicated to soldiers from the former Soviet Union who have died around the world.

The Cuban leader has spoken before of his desire to implement a two-term limit for all Cuban government positions, including the presidency. He has also spoken of the limited time he has left to overhaul the island's weak Marxist economy.

That has led many to speculate that this upcoming term would be his last, though term limits have never been codified into Cuban law.

Castro will be 86 when his next term ends in 2018. Up until now, all eyes had been on who would emerge as Castro's first and second vice-presidents during Sunday's proceedings. The positions are currently occupied by two loyal octogenarians who fought in the 1959 revolution.

Putting someone younger in one of those roles would be the first sign that Castro was settling on a potential next-generation successor, something he and his brother Fidel have never done, even as many comrades have succumbed to old age.

When Raul Castro does leave the political stage, it would end more than a half century of unbroken rule by the two brothers, who came to power in 1959 at the head of a revolution against US-backed strongman Fulgencio Batista.

Relations with the US have been sour since shortly after the revolution. One of the key provisions of the 51-year US economic embargo on Cuba stipulates that it cannot be lifted while either of the Castros is in power.