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Castro Demands US Return Boy Or Face Protests

Fidel Castro has demanded the United States return a six year old Cuban boy, rescued off the coast of Florida, to Cuba within three days or face mass street protests.

Elian Gonzalez was found clinging to a rubber tube at sea a week ago after a boat load of illegal Cuban immigrants sunk. Up to ten passengers including his mother and stepfather are presumed drowned.

Gonzalez is now staying with relatives in Miami, but his father and grandparents in Cuba are demanding his immediate return. They have strong support from a visibly furious Castro.

"We are going to move heaven and earth ... it will be a war, an international battle," Castro said. "If they [the United States] are averagely intelligent, they will announce the return of this boy within 72 hours.

"They should be prudent, and before 72 hours, because if not, there are going to be millions of people in the street demanding the freedom of the boy, who will not stop until they send him back," he said. "This battle is only starting."

Castro’s comments amount to the biggest flare up in Cuban-US relations in recent years and have again raised the possibility of large-scale anti-American protest in Cuba.

Gonzalez turns six today (Monday) and schoolchildren have been told to prepare for protest on Monday outside the US mission. The boy's father said a celebration was planned for his birthday – despite his absence – at his school.

Castro, speaking at Havana airport in a ceremony to greet his delegation to the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, said the "state of irritation and indignation" among the island's 11 million people over the case was unprecedented.

ends

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