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The BBC's Tom Gibb
"People have been given the day off from work and told to go to the rallies"
 real 28k

Saturday, 11 December, 1999, 03:44 GMT
Asylum bid for shipwreck boy

Demonstrations in Cuba showed no real anger


Lawyers representing the American relatives of a six-year-old Cuban boy at the centre of an international custody dispute have filed a petition demanding that he be granted political asylum in the United States.

The lawyers said they were worried that the boy, Elian Gonzalez, would have been returned to Cuba if they had not filed the application.


Both sides are playing politics with Elian
Elian was rescued from the Atlantic Ocean two weeks ago after apparently surviving three days clinging to an inner tube after the boat carrying him and a dozen other Cuban refugees capsized and sank. Ten drowned including the boy's mother and stepfather.

His father wants him back, but relatives looking after him in Miami say he is better off with them.

The issue has become highly politicised with days of mass protests on Cuban streets.

The American relatives are now hoping that President Clinton will agree to meet him on Saturday, as they step up their campaign to keep the boy in the United States.

The US Government is under immense pressure to return Elian to his natural father in Havana.

So far there has been no response from the White House to the appeal.

Our correspondent Malcolm Brabant says Mr Clinton will be in Miami to raise funds for the Democrats for next year's elections and, as an astute politician, he will be aware that a wrong move over this highly charged case could lose the Democrats votes.

'Highly implausible'

John McCain, one of the front-running Republican contenders to replace Mr Clinton, made a firm bid for the Cuban vote by saying that if he was president he would sign an executive order preventing Elian's return to Havana

"I do know that this young man's mother gave her life in order that this young boy might enjoy freedom and not slavery," Mr McCain said.

Lawyers representing the American relatives have petitioned the immigration service to grant the boy asylum.

"It seems to me highly implausible to raise the contention that he would face persecution if he returned home," said legal expert David Abrahams. "The Cuban government has very adroitly made this look like a case of abduction by the mother."

Even if the petition does fail, the lawyers working to keep Elian in Miami are bound to try to use the courts to block any attempt by the US Government to return the boy to Cuba.

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See also:
09 Dec 99 |  Americas
Thousands demand Cuban boy's return
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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