updated 12/16/2006 7:08:30 AM ET 2006-12-16T12:08:30

Ailing Cuban President Fidel Castro has spoken by telephone to a meeting of Cuban officials, the ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma said Saturday in the first official word on the 80-year-old leader in 11 days.

“The Commander in Chief Fidel Castro spoke by telephone to a work session of the Provincial Assemblies of the People’s Power,” the newspaper said.

Castro listened to a summary of discussions at the meeting held Friday and got a warm round of applause, the newspaper said, giving no further details.

Castro has not been seen in public since he underwent emergency surgery for intestinal bleeding that forced him to hand over power to his brother Raul Castro in late July. His absence has fueled speculation that he is dying.

His closest ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said Friday that Castro does not have cancer, but is fighting a “great battle” against a “very serious” illness.

U.S. Intelligence chief John Negroponte said in an interview with The Washington Post published Friday that Castro was near death and had “months, not years” to live.

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