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Raul Castro: World Economy May Slow Reform

Cuban leader Raul Castro has warned that global economic problems may slow one of his planned reforms, increasing workers' salaries.

In a speech to parliament Friday, Mr. Castro said he would like to move faster to improve workers' pay, but said it is necessary to act realistically. He said it will depend on the economic situation in the country which is linked to the world's slowing economy.

The speech was the first to the National Assembly since he succeeded his older brother Fidel Castro in February. He sat next to an empty chair reserved for his brother, who has not appeared in public since he ceded day-to-day power to Raul a year ago.

Since officially taking power, Raul Castro has eased some restrictions on Cubans. They can now stay in hotels, own mobile telephones, and buy appliances such as computers, motorbikes and pressure cookers.

U.S. President George Bush has called the changes empty gestures at reform, saying Cuba will not become prosperous by easing restrictions on the sale of products the average Cuban cannot afford.

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