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The BBC's Tom Gibb reports
"They want to stop Elian being made a US citizen"
 real 28k

Saturday, 29 January, 2000, 05:40 GMT
Mass rallies for Elian's return

Protests Thousands rallied across the island

Cubans have celebrated the 147th birthday of independence hero Jose Marti by demanding the return of the island's latest icon - six-year-old shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez.

Before dawn on Friday, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Havana to honour both Marti and Elian, whose rescue off the Florida coast two months ago sparked a tug-of-war between Cuba and the US.

A small group of girls wore paper handcuffs - an apparent reference to the Cuban Government's characterisation of Elian's retention in the US as a "kidnapping".

Elain and Che Elian has become Cuba's latest iconic figure
Later in the day, schoolchildren wearing red Communist neckerchiefs and Free Elian t-shirts flooded Havana's Plaza of the Revolution.

The primary school-age boys and girls recited poems that they had written for the "boy hero" Elian, and Marti, known as Cuba's "teacher" and "apostle".

The Communist Party daily Granma compared Elian's image with that of revolutionary icon Che Guevara, "converted forever into a symbol of the crimes and injustices that imperialism is capable of committing against an innocent".

Hearing date

The US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has ruled that the boy should be returned to his father in Cuba.

I am no longer neutral
Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin
But the federal government said he should stay until Elian's Florida relatives had a chance to challenge the ruling in court.

At a hearing in Miami on Friday, US District Judge William Hoeveler said he would hear arguments on 22 February on whether the lawsuit should be dismissed. The hearing date had originally been set for 6 March.

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.

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

Nun abandons neutrality

Meanwhile, the Florida nun drafted in to host a meeting between Elian and his Cuban grandmothers earlier this week now says the boy should stay in Miami.

Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin: No longer neutral
"I am no longer neutral," Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin said.

Sister Jeanne sought unsuccessfully to persuade Attorney-General Janet Reno to change her mind about returning the boy to Cuba, and said she backed legislation to make Elian an American citizen.

She told reporters she now believed that separating Elian from his Florida relatives would be "another traumatic loss for him" after the death of his mother at sea last November.

Correspondents said her change of heart was seen in Cuba as yet another conspiracy by Miami exiles.

International concern

Spain has added its voice to calls for Elian to be returned to Cuba.

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

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

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See also:
28 Jan 00 |  Americas
Spain backs Cuba over custody row
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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