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Cubans Vote in Municipal Elections

Cubans went to the polls Sunday to vote in municipal elections, the first since ailing leader Fidel Castro handed over power to his brother last year.

Cuba's roughly eight million people are electing more than 15,000 municipal council members.

Sunday's vote is the start of an electoral process that will culminate with the election of a new National Assembly next March. Lawmakers could then decide whether to officially replace Castro with his brother, Raul Castro.

Cuban state television read a statement Sunday attributed to Fidel Castro. In it he said the strong turnout for Cuba's local elections was a response to threats from President Bush.

Mr. Castro said President Bush is obsessed with Cuba. He also criticized the war in Iraq and the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Critics of Cuba's electoral process say there is no real freedom to choose opposition members, since candidates are nominated for municipal positions in open neighborhood meetings.

The United States has said it hopes for a transition to democracy on the communist-run island.

Close to a 95-percent voter turn-out is expected in the election. Failing to vote in elections is frowned upon by the neighborhood committees.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.