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French daredevil climbs Havana hotel without net

Monday - 2/4/2013, 6:00pm  ET

ANNE-MARIE GARCIA
Associated Press

HAVANA (AP) -- A French daredevil who has scaled some of the world's tallest buildings conquered Cuba's famous Habana Libre hotel on Monday without ropes or a safety net -- climbing to the top in about half an hour as hundreds of awed onlookers gasped and cheered from the streets below.

Alain Robert clambered onto the roof of the 27-story hotel just after 1:30 p.m. after a death-defying stunt that followed years of other hair-raising feats.

The climber had said his main concern was not the height of the 413-foot-tall (126-meter) hotel, but that a bit of the building's brittle facade might break off. Like many city landmarks, the hotel is in disrepair after more than half a century of Communist rule on the island.

In the end, the 50-year-old Frenchman made short work of the building, climbing confidently and so quickly he could have almost been riding a slow-moving elevator.

Before he began, Robert acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press that he felt nervous.

"It's always a little hard beforehand," he said in French. "But afterwards I feel great. I feel reborn. I feel free."

A huge cheer went up as Robert started climbing under a bright blue sky. Tourists stared up from the hotel pool, and office workers shouted encouragement from nearby balconies.

Robert, known as "Spider-Man," has scaled much taller structures in his career, including the former Sears Tower in Chicago, New York's Empire State Building and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

Two years ago he took six hours to summit what currently is the world's tallest building, the 2,717 foot-tall (828 meter) Burj Khalifa in Dubai, though for that ascent he used some safety equipment.

Robert arrived in Havana last week, and has been waiting to get authorities' permission to begin the stunt.

Cuba agreed to let him go ahead, and dozens of police were on hand Monday to keep order. In other countries, Robert has often pulled off his stunts without seeking permission, and has sometimes been arrested.

Just before the climb, Robert scoped out the building, which once was the Havana Hilton.

Though a fall would almost certainly kill him, the Frenchman said he was not intimidated.

The hotel is one of the Cuban capital's most iconic buildings, taken over after the 1959 Cuban Revolution and redubbed the "Habana Libre," or "Free Havana." Fidel Castro briefly set up his personal offices in the hotel after his triumphant march into the capital.

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Associated Press writer Paul Haven contributed to this report.


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