Cuba's leadership has chosen Raul Castro to become the nation's president, after nearly 50 years of leadership by his brother Fidel. VOA's Brian Wagner has this report from Miami.

Cuba's National Assembly confirmed the transfer of power to Raul Castro, from his brother, Fidel. Officials announced the decision at a meeting Sunday to select the 31 members of the governing Council of State, which includes the presidency.

Raul told delegates in the 614-member assembly that he will continue his brother's work to lead the Communist nation.

Raul said he accepted the responsibility placed upon him, adding that Fidel can never be replaced.

The 76-year-old Raul had been serving as acting president since July 2006, when his brother temporarily handed over power to undergo intestinal surgery. Last week, Cuban state media published a letter from Fidel Castro, saying he would not stand for re-election as president because he remains frail following the operation.

At the start of Sunday's assembly meeting, delegates applauded when Fidel's name was called, but state television showed his chair was empty. The 81-year-old has not been seen in public since his operation.

Since taking over temporary power, Raul Castro has called for a national debate to find ways to strengthen the Communist state, improve economic activity and correct income inequality.

In a statement early Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on the Cuban government to begin a process of peaceful and democratic change, including the release of political prisoners. She said the Cuban people have a right to hold democratic elections and to engage in a dialogue about the island's future after what she called "five decades of tyranny."