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Friday, 28 January, 2000, 21:40 GMT
Spain backs Cuba over custody row

Elian Gonzalez Elian under the watchful eye of a relative

Spain has added its voice to calls for the six-year-old Cuban boy, Elian Gonzalez, who survived a shipwreck in which his mother died, to be returned to Cuba from the United States.

The Spanish Foreign Minister, Abel Matutes, said international law dictated that the boy should be reunited with his father.

Mr Matutes was speaking as his Cuban counterpart, Felipe Perez Roque, concluded a visit to Spain at the end of a 10-day tour of Europe.

Congress cools

Russia and France have also spoken in favour of the child being sent back.

The US immigration service has ruled that Elian should be returned.

My sense is that there's a growing feeling in America that Elian should be returned to his father
Senator Arlen Specter
But his relatives in Miami, who have been looking after him, have launched legal moves to keep him in the US.

The battle is being fought in Miami's federal court where the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has filed papers responding to a court challenge against the organisation's decision that Elian be sent home.

But leading members of Congress had been considering swiftly voting on a bill that would grant Elian US citizenship and take the case out of the jurisdiction of the INS.

On Friday, however, Republicans acknowledged that support for the citizenship move was dwindling.

Opinion divided

Earlier in the week, they had said proposed legislation could be voted on as quickly as Wednesday, but as the week drew to a close, no action was taken and opinion was divided on how to proceed.

"I think he belongs with his father and I think that is the sense that's evolving on Capitol Hill," Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said on Friday.

"My sense is that there's a growing feeling in America that Elian should be returned to his father."

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, acknowledged there was a "difference of opinion" among Republicans.

Elian's paternal and maternal grandmothers have this week been lobbying Congress in an effort to persuade them not to offer citizenship.

But, even if they succeed, Elian will have to stay in the US until after the next custody hearing in March.

Cash allegations

On Friday, Elian's Miami-based relatives denied prosecution allegations that they had offered the boy's father 2m, a house and a car to stop fighting for the boy's return to Cuba and to join them in the US.

The claim was made by the INS, based on an interview with Elian's father in Cuba.

Elian has been living at an uncle's house in Miami since last November.

A month later, the Cuban-American community in Miami publicly offered to donate millions of dollars to ensure that Elian would be well looked after if he stayed in the US.

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See also:
28 Jan 00 |  Americas
Elian family feud hots up
27 Jan 00 |  Americas
Elian battle on Capitol Hill
27 Jan 00 |  Americas
Cuba denounces Miami 'lies and humiliation'
27 Jan 00 |  Americas
Elian reunited with grandmothers
20 Jan 00 |  Americas
Clinton enters row over Cuba boy
19 Jan 00 |  Americas
Elian relatives seek court ruling
16 Jan 00 |  Americas
Analysis: Politics cloud Elian case

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