From WILL - News Local/State -

Cuban President Raul Castro to Retire in 2018

Fidel Castro and Raul Castro

Cuba's President Raul Castro, right, and brother Fidel Castro attend the opening session of the National Assemby in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2012. Cuba's parliament reconvened Sunday with new membership and was expected to name Raul Castro to a new five-year-term as president. Raul Castro fueled speculation on Friday when he talked of his possible retirement and suggested he has plans to resign at some point. (Ismael Francisco, Cubadebate/AP)

Cuban President Raul Castro has said he will stand down at the end of his second term in 2018, following his re-election by the National Assembly.

Mr Castro, 81, formally assumed the presidency in 2008 - two years after replacing his ailing brother Fidel.

The Communist assembly, whose members ran for office unopposed, also chose Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez as Mr Castro's first vice-president.

Mr Diaz-Canel, 52, is widely seen as Raul Castro's successor.

On Sunday 86-year-old Fidel Castro - who was in power for five decades - made a rare public appearance at the opening session of the assembly in the capital Havana.

'Perfecting socialism'

Addressing the assembly, Raul Castro said: "This will be my last term."

Mr Castro earlier called for a two-term limit and age caps for political offices including the presidency.

But it is the first time he publicly said he would be stepping aside in 2018, ending the Castro political era.

During his years in power, Raul Castro eased some restrictions on personal freedoms by lifting bans on mobile phones and home computers, and abolished the need of citizens to buy expensive exit visas when travelling abroad as tourists.

However in his Sunday's speech, he stressed: "I was not chosen to be president to restore capitalism to Cuba. I was elected to defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism, not destroy it.''

Raul's arrival together with Fidel earlier in the day and was warmly greeted by more than 600 assembly members.

Foreign press was barred from the opening ceremony.

Before Sunday, Fidel was last seen in public earlier this month. Correspondents say he appeared frail and stooped at the time.

Fidel Castro has given up all his official positions, except his position as the assembly's deputy leader.