HAVANA (AP) – The ailing Fidel Castro appeared on Cuban state television for the first time in more than a month Saturday, looking thin and tired but walking around and ridiculing recent rumors of his death.

The 80-year-old Cuban leader, who temporarily ceded power to his brother Raul in July following intestinal surgery, had not been seen since mid-September when photographs of him receiving world leaders at a summit in Havana were released. He was shown walking slowly but steadily and reading in a loud voice from Saturday’s edition of Granma, the Communist Party daily newspaper.

“They’ve declared me moribund prematurely,” he said. “But it pleases me to send my compatriots and friends this small video.”

He said his recovery would be prolonged and not without risk but added he was making good progress.

“I am coming along just as planned … I feel whole,” he said. “I’m not the least bit afraid of what will occur.”

He called rumors of his death ridiculous and insulting, claiming they were the work of his enemies.

“Let’s see what they say now,” he said.

Castro said he was trying to help those currently in charge of the government as much as he could while he recovers.

“I participate in the most important decisions with my comrades from the leadership of the (Communist) Party and the government,” he said. “I do everything possible to support my comrades, and to be useful.”

The rumors “motivate me to work, to fight,” he said.

The Cuban government has treated Castro’s ailment as a state secret, and rumors that he may have died had intensified in recent weeks. He has not made a public appearance since July 26, a few days before he underwent surgery.

The video shown Saturday came a day after Castro’s close friend and ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the Cuban leader was walking and taking trips at night into the countryside.

Bolivian President Evo Morales said Saturday that Castro would return to office “in two or three weeks.”

A top Cuban official had previously said he expected Castro back at the helm by December, when the country plans to hold a belated birthday celebration for the leader, who turned 80 on Aug. 13.

AP-ES-10-28-06 2133EDT

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