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North Korea begins three-day mourning for Fidel Castro, a distant comrade

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North Korea began three days of official mourning on Monday for late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, remembering him as a “close friend” and heroically in a joint struggle against US aggression.

Flags flew at half-mast at official buildings across the country as a mark of respect for the revolutionary icon, despite a relationship that was often warmer in rhetoric than reality.

In the Pyongyang subway, commuters in one station crowded around a glass case containing a Castro obituary published by the ruling party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun.

Alongside a picture framed with a black border and showing a head-and-shoulder shot of a bearded Castro in full military dress, the obit recalled his visit to North Korea in 1986 when he met founder-leader Kim Il-Sung.

It noted that the Cuban leader was awarded the title of “DPRK (North Korea) Hero” for his efforts to strengthen relations between two countries “fighting in the outposts of the anti-US, anti-imperialist struggle.”

Kim Hong-Chol, 76, a retired literary researcher in Pyongyang, said he clearly remembered Kim’s visit.

“He was a great revolutionary. Until the last minute he supported and defended our revolution, and fought intensely for anti-imperialist independence and against America,” Kim said.

Asked about the historic restoration of Cuba-US diplomatic relations last year, Kim said Havana had acted “tactically for Cuba’s revolutionary benefit”.

Ordinary North Koreans usually express only officially-sanctioned views when questioned by foreign news organisations.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un sent a condolence message on Castro’s death, calling him a “close friend and comrade” of the Korean people.

An official delegation led by senior Kim aide and vice chairman of the ruling Worker’s Party Central Committee, Choe Ryong-Hae, left for Havana today to attend memorial events.

Castro only made the one visit to the North.

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