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Monday, 17 January, 2000, 22:40 GMT
Cuba attacks Elian 'kidnapping'

Free Elian poster Behind Bars: A "Free Elian" poster in Cuba

Cuba's foreign minister has renewed his country's attack on the US after briefing the Pope on the Elian Gonzalez case.

Felipe Perez Roque said Elian had been kidnapped and accused the US of using the boy as a political pawn.

We hope that the international community will back ... the boy being sent back to his father
Felipe Perez Roque
Cuban foreign minister
Six-year-old Elian is at the centre of a custody battle in the US between his American relatives and his father in Cuba.

The boy survived a shipwreck, in which his mother and stepfather died, while they were trying to enter the US illegally.

Mr Perez Roque is on a European tour seeking support for Havana's demand that Elian be returned to his father.

He said he had given Pope John Paul II a detailed account of the dangers to the boy's health of being kept from his father in Cuba.

Magician Starstruck: Elian Gonzalez meets magician David Copperfield
But he said he did not ask the Pope, who used the meeting to urge Cuba to grant greater religious freedom, to intervene in the case.

Mr Perez Roque said: "A child is the most important thing there is in Cuba. The Cuban people do not make a political issue out of children. They demand that the boy return to his father.

"We hope that the international community will back ... the boy being sent back to his father as the law demands ... and as the US Government itself has decided."

The foreign minister, who said Elian had been kidnapped, added: "I hope my contacts in Europe, where the subject of the family and human rights is taken so seriously, will rally public opinion in favour of his immediate return to his family in Cuba."

Exile community

US immigration authorities have ruled Elian should be returned to his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, in Cuba.

Since being rescued from the Atlantic Ocean on 25 November, Elian has been staying with relatives in Miami and his return has been delayed by court proceedings instigated by Miami's Cuban exile community.

Mr Perez Roque, who also met Italy's Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema, said that had Elian been from any other country he would have been returned immediately.

In Cuba, construction work has begun outside the US diplomatic mission - the scene of recent demonstrations demanding Elian's return.

Last month, President Fidel Castro ordered a permanent stage should be built there for Cuba's youth to participate in public activities, especially political gatherings.

But it is not known what is actually being planned for the site

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See also:
16 Jan 00 |  Americas
Analysis: Politics cloud Elian case
12 Jan 00 |  Americas
Reno backs Cuban boy's return
14 Jan 00 |  Americas
Cuban mothers demand boy's return
11 Jan 00 |  Americas
Cuba boy ruling under fire
14 Jan 00 |  Americas
Bizarre twist in custody battle

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