Ailing Cubanleader Fidel Castro saluted Cubans on Saturday in a text released on the eve of the revolution's 48th anniversary, thanking them for their support during his illness and telling them he had not lost his battle to recover.

Castro traditionally sends a message broadcast by state television and radio to Cuban citizens every New Year's Eve to mark the anniversary of the Jan. 1, 1959, triumph of the revolution that brought him to power.

"I am grateful to you for your affection and support," read the message.

"Regarding my recovery, I have always warned that it could be a prolonged process but it is far from being a lost battle. I collaborate as a disciplined patient, attended by the consecrated team of our doctors.

"I have not stopped being in the loop on main events and information," he added.

"I have had exchanges with our closest comrades always when co-operation has been necessary on vitally important issues."

Earlier Saturday, Cuba's Communist party newspaper reported thatCastro telephoned the Chinese ambassador in Havana to wish President Hu Jintao a happy new year.

Castro's message to the Cuban people and the short story about his call to the Chinese ambassador seemed aimed at assuring the world that the leader's recovery continues five months after he underwent emergency intestinal surgery.

Medical condition a state secret

Speculation about Castro's medical condition has been rife amid a lack of information from the Cuban government.

Castro, 80, has not been seen in public since several days before he announced July 31 that he was temporarily stepping aside after an operation for intestinal surgery. He has provisionally ceded his powers to his brother Raul, Cuba's 75-year-old defence minister.

Cuban media have not commented on a Spanish surgeon's declarations earlier this week that Castro does not have cancer and is slowly recovering from a serious operation.

Castro's medical condition is a state secret but Cuban authorities have denied he suffers from terminal cancer, as U.S. intelligence officials have claimed. Cuban officials have nonetheless stopped insisting Castro will return to power.

Some doctors believe Castro may suffer from diverticular disease, which can cause bleeding in the lower intestine, especially in people over 60. In severe cases, emergency surgery may be required.