Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro made a rare public appearance at a gala event to mark his 90th birthday on Saturday (13 August), at Havana's Karl Marx theatre with his brother, President Raul Castro, and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. In his first public appearance since April, Castro looked frail as he remained seated during the event.

In a letter published by the state-run newspaper, Castro thanked his countrymen for the well wishes and reminisced his early days as a youth in eastern Cuba, touched upon his father's death and also criticised Obama. "I want to express my deepest gratitude for the shows of respect, greetings and praise that I've received in recent days, which give me strength to reciprocate with ideas that I will send to party militants and relevant organisations," he wrote.

Castro, who stepped down from power in 2008, after suffering from a serious gastro intestinal illness, wrote further: "Modern medical techniques have allowed me to scrutinise the universe."

He slammed Obama for failing to apologise to the people of Hiroshima for the atomic bomb dropped by the US during World War II, when he visited the site of bombing in May.

"He lacked the words to ask for forgiveness for the killings of hundreds of thousands of people," the Associated Press quoted from his letter.

The event in Havana emphasised important moments of Castro's life, including the Washington-backed failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961.

When the clock struck midnight on Friday, fireworks exploded and a huge street party was organised to celebrate the occasion in the capital. Loved as a hero and reviled as a dictator, Castro is one of the most prominent political figures of modern history. His communist policies and heavy-handed treatment of his rivals drew the ire of the United States and western nations.

Under Raul Castro's presidency, diplomatic ties with United States have been restored. However, Castro defiantly wrote after Obama's visit to Havana in March: "We don't need anything from the empire."

Fidel Castro
Cuba's former president Fidel Castro (C) sits next to Cuba's President Raul Castro (L) and Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during a cultural gala to celebrate Fidel Castro's 90th birthday in Havana, Cuba on August 13, 2016 Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS