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The military exercise, Cuba's largest in five years and the first since Barack Obama's inauguration as US president in January, will be held Thursday through Saturday, followed by Sunday's armed forces day to be marked nationwide.

Nearly 50 years after a botched US-directed invasion of Cuba, the communist nation said Saturday it is holding a military exercise next week to boost preparedness against any future US attack.

"It is a necessity of the first order given the political-military situation that now defines relations between Cuba and the empire," Major General Leonardo Andollo warned, referring to the United States.

He told the official Granma newspaper that the "Bastion-2009" exercises will "raise the deterrent capacity to prevent a military confrontation, under the principle that there is no better way to win a war than by avoiding it."

The government of President Raul Castro, a longtime defense chief, expects that as many as four million Cubans may take part in Sunday's events, in this Caribbean country of 11 million, the Americas' only one-party communist regime.

Major General Ermio Hernandez, head of the military's directorate, said the exercise will involve tactical maneuvers, command of ground troops, artillery practice and military flights.

Washington quickly recognized the new Fidel Castro government after the 1959 Cuban revolution, but by 1961 the United States broke ties with Havana.

In April that year, a 1,400-strong force of CIA-trained Cuban exiles invaded Cuba's Bay of Pigs -- a disastrous venture fatally compromised by leaky intelligence and poor execution.

In its aftermath the Central Intelligence Agency hatched many failed plots to remove the elder Cuban leader, now 83 and still head of the Cuban Communist Party.

A US trade embargo on Cuba begun in 1962 remains in place despite calls by every country in the Americas to have it lifted.

Obama has largely abandoned the confrontational rhetoric with Havana that marked past administrations, and has sought to allow unlimited family travel and financial remittances from the United States to Cuba.

But he has stressed that elimination of the embargo would require Cuba to open up democratically and improve its human rights record.

Source: AFP

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