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The BBC's Malcolm Brabant
"It is just matter of time before he is taken from this temporary home"
 real 28k

The BBC's Tom Gibb in Havana
"These demonstrations are highly orchestrated"
 real 28k

Friday, 10 December, 1999, 14:05 GMT
Thousands demand Cuban boy's return

Demonstrators march in Cuba Thousands of people filed past the US diplomatic mission

Hundreds of thousands of people have marched through Havana in the biggest protest in Cuba for many years, to demand the return of a six-year-old boy from the United States.

Schoolchildren led the 300,000-strong march past the US diplomatic mission, waving pictures of the boy, Elian Gonzalez, and chanting anti-US slogans.

The sea of demonstrators, many of whom had been bussed in from other parts of the island by Communist officials, stretched the length of Havana's five-mile sea-front boulevard.

Elian's extended family want him to stay in the States Elian's extended family want him to stay in the States
Throughout Havana, employees were instructed at workplaces to participate in the march and teachers brought their students after classes had ended for the day.

Elian is at the centre of a custody battle between his father in Cuba, who is demanding his return, and relatives looking after him in Miami, who say he is better off staying with them.

The boy was shipwrecked off Miami after the boat he was in sank more than two weeks ago. His mother and 10 other people drowned.

The BBC's Tom Gibb in Havana says the issue has been a windfall for the Cuban President, Fidel Castro, who has orchestrated protests and turned the return of the boy into a nationalist rallying call.

Establishing parenthood

The US Government has made overtures to the boy's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, as the battle for custody moves toward a courtroom in Florida.

Children hold pictures of Elian aloft Children were given the day off to join in
A letter was handed over to the Cuban Government by US officials detailing the procedures the boy's father, who was divorced from the mother, should follow to claim custody.

A representative of the US mission in Havana, Vicky Huddleston, said: "We would be able and willing to do the interview any place the father would like us to do it.

"The ball is in their court."

The US State Department announced Mr Gonzalez would be allowed to assert "parental interests" in any court proceedings, but first he has to prove he is the boy's father.

'US kidnapping'

The diplomatic letter asks him to provide any birth records, school reports and family photographs to establish his parenthood.

Thursday's mass protest follows days of smaller protests on the streets of Havana at the "kidnapping" of Elian by the US authorities.

US authorities have said officials from the US Immigration and Naturalization Service would make the final decision on whether to return the child to Cuba.

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See also:
09 Dec 99 |  Americas
Diplomacy effort over shipwreck boy
08 Dec 99 |  Americas
Cuba-US row deepens
07 Dec 99 |  Americas
In pictures: Shipwreck boy sparks protests
05 Dec 99 |  Americas
Castro warns US over shipwreck boy

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