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Cuban Voters Turn Out for General Elections - 2003-01-20

Cuba reports near-perfect turnout for general elections in which more than 600 candidates handpicked by the country's communist government ran unopposed.

Cuban officials say more than 97 percent of the eight million eligible voters cast ballots to select representatives for the country's national assembly and provincial governments.

Cuban President Fidel Castro said the exercise shows that Cuba is perfecting what he termed a "socialist democracy." Cuba's state-owned news media hailed the vote as proof of popular support for the nation's system of governance.

Voters had the choice of either endorsing candidates or leaving blank spaces. Pro-democracy dissidents on the island urged people to cast blank ballots, but there is no word as to how many did so. In Miami, Cuban exiles denounced the exercise as a farce.

All Cubans older than 16 may vote. Although voting is not obligatory, the government encourages high turnouts.

Among those elected to the National Assembly is Fidel Castro. Also securing a seat is Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the father of Cuban shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez, whose arrival in south Florida sparked a five-month custody battle three years ago.