Chavez now says Castro is recovering

Ailing Fidel Castro is recovering and has been up and walking, "almost jogging" in recent days, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Wednesday that ailing CubanPresident Fidel Castro is recovering, "almost jogging" in recent days.

The comments from Chavez werea departure from previous statementshe madethatCastrowas gravely ill.

Chavez is now saying heis pleased to hear from Cuban Vice-President Carlos Lage thatCastro, 80,is getting better.

After meeting with Chavez, Lage said, "We will have Fidel and we will have Raul for a lot more time."

Less than a week ago,Chavez said Castro was "battling for his life."

"Lage told me that Fidel walked I don't know how many minutes yesterday," Chavez said Wednesday, noting he suspected Castro was watchingasChavez spokeon television.

"He's walking more than me, almost jogging. Maybe he's walking while watching us."

In a speech earlier this month, Chavez describedCastro's situation as "delicate," but dismissedspeculation by Spanish mediathatCastrowas near death after three failed operations and complications from the intestinal infection diverticulitis.

Cuba has released little information about Castro's condition since he temporarily ceded power in July 2006 to his brother, Defence Minister Raul Castro, until he could recover from emergency intestinal surgery, prompting speculation and rumour in the country and around the world.

Cuban authorities have denied Castro suffers from terminal cancer as U.S. intelligence officials have claimed, but have stopped insisting he will return to power.

with files from the Associated Press