Cuban leader Fidel Castro spoke in a soft but steady voice about feeling "more energetic" and enjoying his convalescence in a surprise call to a radio broadcast in Venezuela, his first live comments since falling ill seven months ago.
The half-hour call to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's radio talk show on Tuesday, which aired later on Cuban TV, raised expectations that Castro could soon re-emerge in public.
"I'm gaining ground. I feel more energetic, stronger and have more time to study. I've become a student again," he told Chavez over the phone.
"I can't promise that I'll go over there soon," Castro said, but added, "I feel good and I'm happy."
In Havana, Castro loyalists were elated on Wednesday.
"The tone of his voice is perfect," said a 46-year-old computer worker who gave her name as Santa Elena, saying she thought Castro would make a public appearance "any moment."
A 50-year-old trash collector named Cebeno, who also declined to give his last name, said Castro's live conversation with Chavez "confirms that he is well" and that "he will appear again."
"I think he can continue as president," said 22-year-old journalism student Juan Manuel. "The whole world knows the strength he has."
Until Tuesday, Castro had only been heard in pre-taped comments on videos released by the Cuban government, which quelled speculation that he was deathly ill but failed to give an immediate sense of his health.
His words to Chavez were spoken slowly and he appeared to catch on a few words but he was in good spirits, reports AP.
"My God! It's Fidel," Chavez said with obvious surprise at the unexpected call and asked his close friend in English, "How are you?"
"Very well," Castro replied in English, prompting a chuckle from Chavez.
"You don't know how happy we are to hear your voice and know that you're well," Chavez said.