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The BBC's Tom Gibb
"Fidel Castro has siezed the case as a nationalist cause"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 08:47 GMT
Cuban custody row escalates
Demonstrators take to Havana's streets for a second night Demonstrators take to Havana's streets for a second night

Several thousand people in the Cuban capital Havana have taken part in a second night of demonstrations outside the US mission to demand the return of a Cuban boy.

Waving banners and chanting anti-American slogans, the protesters climbed a specially-built stage to cut a birthday cake for Elian Gonzalez who celebrated his sixth birthday on Monday.

He has been living in Florida since he was shipwrecked as he and other migrants sailed for the United States last month. His mother and step-father were killed in the attempt.

President Castro has accused the US of kidnapping the boy and has demanded his return by Wednesday. The Americans have rejected the ultimatum.

There will be millions of people on the streets. It is difficult to hold back the population when they are in this state of irritation
Fidel Castro
The BBC correspondent in Havana says the case has become highly charged, with both sides using emotional images to argue that the boy is better off with them.

The United States is also warning that Cuba has responsibility to ensure the safety of American diplomatic staff in Havana as the row escalates.

US State Department spokesman James Foley said the fate of the child should be based on humanitarian considerations.

"We do not accept the ultimatum issued by Fidel Castro," he said. "This is not conducive to resolving this case in the appropriate humanitarian way.

"We expect the government of Cuba to fulfil its obligation to protect international diplomatic missions and their personnel."

Second day of protests

On Sunday, speakers declared that the island's 11 million inhabitants were prepared to shed blood to ensure Elian was returned to his father and grandfather.

The protesters were given transport for the demonstration and then later taken home.

Cuban President Fidel Castro has warned the US that millions of people would take to the streets if Elian was not returned within 72 hours.

US officials say the Florida courts will decide whether the boy should stay with relatives in the States or return to Cuba.

Elian celbrates his sixth birthday with relatives in Miami
But the Cuban Government has rejected the idea of the case being resolved in a US court, accusing the judges of being corrupt.

Elian's relatives in Miami have started a highly political campaign for him to stay in the US, saying that he would not have any opportunities in Cuba.

Cuban state television have carried pictures of Elian's father and grandparents having tearful telephone conversations with him, and wishing him a happy sixth birthday.

Another damaging row

Mr Castro's warning made it clear that he is prepared to push relations with the US to a new crisis over the case.

Dressed in his trademark military uniform, the president appeared on Cuban state television and spoke in war-like terms.

"We are going to move heaven and earth ... it will be a war, an international battle" Mr Castro said during an hour-long commentary.

In his first public comments on the case, the visibly furious Cuban leader accused the US authorities of kidnapping the boy.

The tug-of-love between Florida and Cuba comes at a time when there have been serious moves in the US Congress to try to ease the four-decade-old US embargo against Cuba.

The BBC's Tom Gibb in Havana says the row will be fairly damaging in the short term but in the long term, it will only complicate the one area where there is co-operation, which is immigration.

The two countries are scheduled to hold talks on the issue in Havana in a week.

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See also:
07 Dec 99 |  Americas
In pictures: Shipwreck boy sparks protests
05 Dec 99 |  Americas
Castro warns US over shipwreck boy
29 Nov 99 |  Americas
Cuban shipwreck boy in tug-of-love
04 Dec 99 |  Americas
New Yorkers' historic flight to Cuba
27 Nov 99 |  Americas
Cubans survive shipwreck ordeal
21 Sep 99 |  Americas
Life for Cuba 'people smuggler'
30 Jun 99 |  Americas
Six Cubans to stay in US

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