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The BBC's Tom Gibb in Havana
"The last person to be given this kind of welcome was Pope John Paul II"
 real 28k

Sunday, 30 January, 2000, 22:47 GMT
Heroes' welcome for Elian grandmothers

Hundreds of people cheered the grandmothers in Havana

The grandmothers of Elian Gonzalez have arrived back in Cuba to a heroes' welcome after spending nine days in the United States unsuccessfully campaigning for the six-year-old shipwreck survivor's return to Cuba.

Mariela Quintana and Raquel Rodriguez landed from Washington to an emotional homecoming, welcomed by the boy's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, and hundreds of people lining the streets.

The state media and communist party activists had worked hard for a good turn-out, BBC Cuba correspondent Tom Gibb says.

He will never be happy (in the United States) because he grew up in Cuba
Mariela Quintana
Crowds clutching Cuban flags lined the route of their motorcade through Havana.

Government television and radio stations repeatedly broadcast the route and newspapers published schedules for special buses to take people to it.

Even the national soccer championship game, which had been scheduled for Sunday in Havana, was postponed for a week so players and spectators could attend the event.

On returning to Cuba, Elian's grandmothers said they believed the American people were now on their side and that their grandson would be returned soon.

castro Fidel Castro arrives for the welcoming ceremony

Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who was involved in all the details of the grandmothers' trip, presided over the welcoming rally.

Our correspondent says their trip has been portrayed as a victory over Cuban-American leaders in Miami in the battle for US public opinion.

Elian was found floating in an inner tube off the Florida coast on 25 November after a boat wreck that killed his mother and 10 other people.

He has been staying with a great-uncle in Florida ever since.

His Florida relatives are seeking to keep Elian in the United States, while his father and other relatives in Cuba are fighting to get him back.

Massive government campaign

The struggle over Elian has become one of the largest government campaigns in recent Cuban history, with daily events, some drawing massive crowds, to demand the child's return to his father.

Since the two grandmothers left Havana on 21 January, the government has given increasingly heavy television and newspaper coverage to their tour of the United States, crediting them with helping sway US public opinion toward Elian's return.

Protesters in Los Angeles call for Elian's return to Cuba
The women - until recently obscure housewives from the provincial city of Cardenas - have found themselves in the glare of worldwide publicity, meeting US congressmen, senators and Attorney General Janet Reno.

"We think we have (made) a step forward but still my grandson is here," Raquel Rodriguez, the maternal grandmother, said before leaving Washington.

Citizenship issue fades

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 Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

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

The two women met their grandson only once in their trip, on neutral ground in Miami away from the Cuban-American relatives.

The INS has ruled Elian should be returned to his father. But officials are awaiting the outcome of a federal court challenge filed by Miami relatives before trying to return the boy.

A US district judge will hear arguments on 22 February on whether the Miami relatives' lawsuit should be dismissed.

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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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