Fidel Castro makes appearance at polling station

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FIDEL Castro has made a rare public appearance, as millions of Cubans voted for parliamentary candidates in elections critics say offer no real competition but that the government defends as grass-roots democracy.

The elected unicameral legislature will convene on 24 February and pick a new parliamentary chief for the first time in two decades, with its long-serving leader, Ricardo Alarcon, not on the ballot.

The legislature is also expected to rename Raul Castro as president for another five years.

He and Fidel have between them headed the government for five decades.

Fidel Castro, 86, appears in public only occasionally since he fell ill in 2006 and then stepped aside as leader. But he was still among 25 national assembly candidates from the eastern city of Santiago in the elections.

Government critics call Cuban elections perfunctory, noting only the Communist Party is permitted on the island and that only one approved candidate is on the ballot for each seat in parliament.