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World's leaders wish Cuba well, urge change

World reaction to Fidel Castro's decision not to seek reelection split Tuesday into two groups, with many European nations urging Cuba to seek democratic reforms while others refrained from making recommendations for Cuba's future.

Castro's announcement ''could be good news if it [leads to] the start of a democratization process in Cuba that all the world desires,'' Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba said, according to news service reports.

Foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who sparked a controversy last year by initiating a policy of constructive engagement with Cuba's leadership, was more cautious, saying Spain stood ready ''to help in whatever way possible'' and that the resignation paved the way ''for a new moment'' in the country.

In London, a spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Castro's retirement is ''an opportunity to make progress toward a peaceful transition to a pluralist democracy'' and could lead ``to more respect for human rights and the release of political prisoners.''

Peru's prime minister, Jorge del Castillo, was one of the first Latin American leaders to call on Cuba to embark on a democratic path. ''One must hope that the process of transferring power is peaceful'' he told a local radio station.

German Foreign Minister Martin Jager told the Spanish EFE news service that he hoped the resignation will pave the way for democracy.

Italy's deputy foreign minister, Donato Di Santo, told reporters Castro's gesture was a ''noble, important and expected one.'' He said the international community ought to help Cuba through a ''democratic transition'' and avoid a ''succession.'' But he also called on the European Union to end ''anachronistic'' sanctions and initiate a ``critical and urgent dialogue.''

French minister for European affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet told a French radio station that ``we can only hope that a new path will open up after this withdrawal and that there will be more democracy in that country.''

The Dutch foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, called for a ``peaceful transition to a democratic society.''

But China, in a statement from its foreign ministry, simply said it would continue friendly ties with Cuba and called Castro an ``old friend.''

Russia's Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov praised Castro's decision as a ''brave'' one that was ``guided by the interests of his country and his people.''

The Vietnamese government said it believed Castro would ''continue to contribute to the revolutionary cause'' despite his resignation.

Ian Gibson, chair of the British parliament's all-party group on Cuba, said he believed Castro's retirement could lead to an opening in the island's relations with the rest of the world.

''I think the spirit of the revolution will live on in the younger generation of Cubans, but I would certainly think there will be differences in the relationships with other countries,'' he said. ``Cuba understands that it is a global economy now. I think there will be less fear of America and more interaction with Europe.''

Labor MP Ian Davidson, a fellow member of the all-party group, said he hoped Cuba would not become an issue in the upcoming U.S. presidential elections.

''The lower profile Cuba has in the American elections, the better for Cuba,'' he said. ``I hope that Cuba is left free to make its own political arrangements without external interference. It very much depends upon the attitude the United States takes.''

The European Union's foreign policy representative, Javier Solana of Spain, said, ``All actions that take the country towards a democratic, peaceful process ought to be something to celebrate.

''The situation in Cuba has degenerated over the last few years, as is well known, from the human rights point of view,'' he added.

Trinidad Jímenez, Spain's top diplomat for Latin America, said Castro's announcement should strengthen Raúl Castro's capacity to implement reforms.

José Blanco, the secretary for the Spanish Socialist Party, said the resignation was ``great news if it is accompanied by a democratic opening.''

Mariano Rajoy, the leader of Spain's right-of-center Popular Party and long a critic of the socialist government's friendly policies toward Cuba, said he hoped democracy came quickly to the island.

''In the times that we live, in 2008, that a man who calls himself the judge of people's lives says what to do and what not to do is absolutely ridiculous,'' he said.

The Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone is to visit Cuba on Wednesday. It what will be the first high-ranking international visitor to go to Havana following Fidel Castro's announcement.