Cuban voters have lined up at polling stations for municipal elections in the Communist-run island, amid calls by the country's small opposition for a boycott.
More than 8.5 million Cubans over age 16 are eligible to choose candidates vying for municipal councils across the country.
The government extols the "transparent and democratic" election process, including the nomination of candidates at popular assemblies held at the neighborhood level.
Dissidents decry the process here as anything but democratic. They say the ruling Community party may not officially nominate candidates, but it ensures, thanks to its influence and votes from sympathisers, that no dissident will ever get on the ballot.
As in previous elections, the opposition called for voters to boycott the vote, to hand in a blank ballot or to write an opposition slogan.
Voting is not mandatory, but government supporters go door-to-door to drum up participation, and the state-run media maintains an intense campaign calling for people to go to the polls.
Turnout was nearly 95 per cent in the last municipal vote, in 2010, and only about eight percent of the ballots were annulled, according to the election commission.
Meanwhile, Fidel Castro has appeared in public for the first time in months, a top hotel executive told the Associated Press on Sunday, challenging persistent rumors that the leader is near death.
The 86-year-old leader dropped off a Venezuelan guest at the Hotel Nacional on Saturday afternoon, then stayed for about half an hour to chat with hotel staff, Yamila Fuster, commercial director, said.
"Fidel Castro was here yesterday, he brought a guest and spoke to workers and hotel leaders for 30 minutes,'' Fuster said. She said she was not present but that the news was being released officially by the state-owned establishment.
"They told me he looked very good. He was wearing a checked shirt and a hat," she said.
Source: Al Jazeera