Cuban state media say new president to be elected Wednesday

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Miguel Diaz-Canel, a 57-year-old Communist Party official and the country's current first vice-president, is due to be confirmed on Thursday as the successor to Mr Castro, whose departure will end his family's six-decade grip on power. For the first time in almost six decades, Cubans are about to see what it's like without a Castro at the top.

The National Assembly began a meeting Wednesday where Raul Castro plans to hand the presidency to a chosen successor.

"The mandate given by the people to this house is to give continuity to the Cuban revolution in a crucial historic moment", Diaz-Canel told the assembly in his first speech as president.

The 86-year-old Castro will remain head of the Communist Party, designated by the constitution as "the superior guiding force of society and the state".

Crucially, he will remain under the watchful eye of Castro, who will continue to serve as the head of Cuba's all-powerful Communist Party. He was smiling broadly Wednesday as he entered the National Assembly at Raul Castro's side.

The longstanding United States economic embargo on the island, maintained in the years since the Cold War to try to pressure Havana into change, is commonly referred to as a blockade by the Cuban government. Also absent was the negative reaction following former President Barack Obama's December 2014 announcement of restored diplomatic relations with Cuba, an opening President Donald Trump partially closed past year.

"Today, the Cuban regime has named a new puppet", Diaz-Balart said.

As in Cuba's legislative elections, all of the leaders being voted in on Wednesday are selected by a government-appointed commission.

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Many at Versailles Restaurant, where there was a massive celebration when Fidel Castro died, viewed the Cuban National Assembly's process as a political transition, but not as political change.

In Havana's corridors of power, the jeans-wearing Diaz-Canel stands out, a self-declared fan of The Beatles with a passing resemblance to the actor Richard Gere.

During his time in power, Raul Castro allowed for a small private sector to start in Cuba and also reopened diplomatic relations with the United States, which had attempted to topple his brother's government a number of times.

But the satellite images don't show much, and he says he doesn't yearn to visit his homeland.

It was nothing like the commotion following the death of Fidel Castro, which exiles celebrated by clanging pots and beating drums at the same spot in November 2016.

"He's got more to gain than to lose be being [visible] out there", Williams said.

After studying electrical engineering in the central province of Villa Clara, he became a university professor before going to work for Cuba's all-powerful Communist Party. This week, after almost 60 years in power and with far less drama, the Castro era will come to an end.