Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro, one of the world’s longest-serving and most iconic leaders, has died aged 90.
His younger brother and successor as president Raul Castro announced the news on state television.
Castro toppled the government in 1959, introducing a Communist revolution. He defied the US for decades, surviving many assassination plots.
His supporters said he had given Cuba back to the people. Critics saw him as a dictator.
Ashen and grave, President Castro told the nation in an unexpected late night broadcast on state television that Fidel Castro had died and would be cremated later on Saturday.
“The commander in chief of the Cuban revolution died at 22:29 hours this evening (03:29 GMT Saturday),” he said. “Towards victory, always!” he added, using a revolutionary slogan.
A period of official mourning has been declared on the island until 4 December, when his ashes will be laid to rest in the south-eastern city of Santiago.
Barring the occasional newspaper column, Fidel Castro had essentially been retired from political life for several years.
In April, Fidel Castro gave a rare speech on the final day of the country’s Communist Party congress.
“I’ll soon be 90,” the former president said, adding that this was “something I’d never imagined”.
“Soon I’ll be like all the others, “to all our turn must come,” Fidel Castro said.
Castro was the longest serving non-royal leader of the 20th Century.
He temporarily handed over power to his brother in 2006 as he was recovering from an acute intestinal ailment. Raul Castro officially became president two years later.
News of his death left some in Havana stunned.
“I always said it couldn’t be,” said one woman, a government employee. “Even though they said it now, I say it can’t be.”
How he defied the US
Throughout the Cold War, Fidel Castro was a thorn in Washington’s side.
An accomplished tactician on the battlefield, he and his small army of guerrillas overthrew the military leader Fulgencio Batista in 1959 to widespread popular support.
Within two years of taking power, he declared the revolution to be Marxist-Leninist in nature and allied the island nation firmly to the Soviet Union.
Yet, despite the constant threat of a US invasion as well as the long-standing economic embargo on the island, Castro managed to maintain a communist revolution in a nation just 90 miles (145km) off the coast of Florida.
Despised by his critics as much as he was revered by his followers, he maintained his rule through 10 US presidents and survived scores of attempts on his life by the CIA.
He established a one-party state, with many political opponents executed or imprisoned. The independent media was suppressed. Thousands of Cubans fled into exile.