By Diego Oré and Sarah Marsh
| SANTA CLARA, Cuba
SANTA CLARA, Cuba Thousands of people greeted Fidel Castro's funeral cortege on its journey across Cuba on Thursday after a symbolic overnight reunion at the mausoleum in Santa Clara housing the bones of fellow revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara.Waving flags and chanting "I am Fidel," Cubans thickly lined pastel-coloured colonial streets in admiration of Castro, who died on Friday at age 90 as one of the towering figures of the 20th century after establishing a Communist state 90 miles (145 km) from the United States. The government declared nine days of mourning.The outpouring from ordinary Cubans contrasts with the hatred of many Cuban exiles who saw Castro as a tyrant who jailed opponents and ruined the economy with socialism."With the death of Fidel, the revolution must continue on its path, no steps backwards," said Pedro Sanchez, 81, who said he fought in Castro's rebellion against a U.S.-backed president in the 1950s.
The procession was slowly making its way east, destined for the final resting place of his ashes in Santiago de Cuba, where Castro's rebels first launched an attack on the U.S.-backed forces of Fulgencio Batista in 1953.Batista was finally driven from Cuba on Jan. 1, 1959, and the cortege is retracing the trek Castro made from that day until he arrived in Havana a week later.
Castro would go on to rule for 49 years, attempting to erase U.S. influence from a country that had been dominated by its northern neighbour for decades. Building a healthcare system for the poor, he sent doctors around the world but also soldiers to Africa to help Namibia achieve independence and weaken apartheid in South Africa.Guevara, who once approximated Castro's charisma and influence, also embarked on guerrilla missions in Latin America, dying in battle in Bolivia in 1967. His monument was placed in Santa Clara, where he also led a crucial fight against Batista forces in December 1958.
Whether out of revolutionary zeal, nationalist pride or a sense of obligation in a one-party state, Cubans have poured onto the streets to bid their final farewell to Castro.Many lined up for hours to pass through a memorial in Havana's Revolution Square. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands, gathered there on Tuesday night for a four-hour ceremony in which presidents from around the world delivered eulogies. (Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)
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