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Raul Castro To Step Down In 2018

Cuban President Raul Castro (left) and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev talk to journalists after a visit to the Soviet Soldier Monument in Havana on February 22.
Cuban leader Raul Castro has announced he will step down from power after his second term as president ends in 2018.

Castro made the announcement on February 24 in a nationally broadcast speech shortly after the Cuban National Assembly elected him to a second five-year term in the opening session of the new parliament.

"Once again, before you and all of our people, I assume the honor of presiding over the Council of State and the government," he said. "In this sense, I think it's important to reiterate what has been said twice in this parliament: I was not elected president to restore capitalism in Cuba, nor to hand over the revolution. I was elected to defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism, not to destroy it."

The 81-year-old Castro -- who officially replaced his ailing brother Fidel as president in 2008 -- also called for term limits for top officials.

"Among the modifications that we propose to introduce to the constitution," he said, "is one to limit the performance of the principal state and government charge to a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms and establish maximum age to occupy those responsibilities."

Castro said the country has reached a "transcendent" moment in which it is ready to start transferring responsibility and power to a younger generation.

In a surprise move, the new parliament named a rising young star as first vice president: 52-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel. Diaz-Canel would succeed Castro if he cannot serve his full term.

Diaz-Canel's appointment marks the first time someone who did not directly participate in the 1959 Cuban revolution assumed such an important role.

In recent months, Diaz-Canel has become more prominent in official media.

He already has stood in for Raul Castro at presidential inaugurations in other nations.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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