FIDEL CASTRO leaves for Middle East trip

Saturday, May 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HAVANA (AP) _ President Fidel Castro left Cuba on Saturday for a tour of the Middle East and Asia, beginning with a stop in Algeria.

Castro planned to visit ``friendly countries'' after stopping in Algeria, state television said, but gave no further details. Because of security concerns, the communist government rarely releases details of Castro's travel schedule.

However, Iran and Malaysia have said in recent days that Castro would be visiting their countries.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry said Castro would arrive Monday, leading a high-ranking delegation of political and economic figures, Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Castro will make his first official visit to Malaysia on May 11-13, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Friday.

Castro may also visit Qatar. Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said during a visit to there in February that Castro would likely visit this year.

Such a trip is rare these days for the 74-year-old Cuban leader. Castro's travels in recent years have been concentrated largely in the Western hemisphere, mostly for regional summits in Latin America and the Caribbean.