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Castro mourns for Trudeau, who stood up for him
MONTREAL, Canada (Reuters) -- Cuban President Fidel Castro had few Western friends in the height of the Cold War, but former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau did not hesitate to risk U.S. anger and reach out to him.
And, as if to pay back a debt of friendship, Castro was among the most prominent guests attending Trudeau's funeral in Montreal on Tuesday.
Trudeau, the first NATO leader to visit Cuba after Castro took power, led the way in flouting U.S. trade sanctions against Communist Cuba.
At the funeral on Tuesday, Castro hugged Trudeau's surviving sons, Sacha and Justin, his ex-wife Margaret when they arrived at the front of Notre Dame Basilica at the start of the funeral.
Castro took the rare step of going to Montreal's City Hall on Monday prior to the funeral to stand before the casket. He
also ordered flags to fly at half-mast in Cuba for three days.
"I share at this moment the sorrow and pain of Pierre Trudeau's family and of all Canadians," Castro said in a statement after he arrived in Canada, his first official visit since 1959.
"I also wanted to come personally to show my respect, friendship and sympathy for the people of Canada."
Trudeau, Liberal prime minister from 1968-79 and 1980-84, died on Thursday at the age of 80.
The family named Castro, along with former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and other friends, as honorary pallbearers who followed the casket and the family into the funeral.
Trudeau and Castro had given each other bear hugs during a controversial visit to Cuba in 1976, the first visit to Cuba by a NATO leader, when Trudeau shouted "Viva Cuba!" and "Viva Castro!" Castro had organised tens of thousands of workers to line the streets and cheer as the open-topped car drove by.
During the visit Castro held the Trudeaus' baby Michel -- who died in an avalanche in 1998 -- and Margaret Trudeau smoked stogies with the Cuban leader.
Castro brought the photos of that visit to Montreal to present to the family on Tuesday.
Pierre Trudeau recalled in his memoirs that he and Castro had gone skin-diving during the Cuba visit and then discussed Cuba's troops in Angola.
"I asked him, 'Now isn't this meddling in the internal affairs of a foreign country?"' Trudeau wrote.
Castro replied that it was only a small number of troops, invited by Angola, but that when Trudeau got back home he realised the number was much higher than Castro had said, so he ordered all non-humanitarian aid to be cut off.
"I'm sure he didn't like it," Trudeau wrote.
Nonetheless, Trudeau returned to Cuba on private visits and Canada remained one of Cuba's closest friends in the West -- though relations have soured in the last two years.
Canada and Mexico were the only two countries in the Americas to have kept ties with Cuba after Castro seized power in his 1959 Communist revolution and trade, tourism and investment has filled in much of the gaps of the U.S. embargo.
The current Canadian prime minister, Jean Chretien, made a lower-key visit to Cuba in 1998, which ended in some disappointment as Castro refused to agree to Chretien's request to free four political prisoners.
When diplomats and journalists were banned from court proceedings and stiff sentences were handed down to the four dissidents in 1999, Chretien declared he would add "some northern ice" to the relationship and clamped down on high-level bilateral visits.
He also stopped championing the cause of getting Castro invited to the Summit of the Americas in 2001 in Quebec City.
Castro slammed Canada as the "second enemy in the north" after 13 Cuban athletes defected during the Pan-American Games in Winnipeg later in 1999.
Canadian officials said Chretien and Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy were likely to meet Castro during a reception after the funeral but that no formal sit-down meetings were planned, and it was uncertain whether they would try to repair ties or press the case of the four prisoners.
In his public remarks this week, Castro gave no hint of lingering hostility but spoke only glowingly of Trudeau.
"At all times, he showed friendship and sympathy toward Cuba, by openly and firmly maintaining his position against the hostile imperialist policy toward our country," Castro said in a decree he signed on Monday.
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