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ELIAN AIRS GRATITUDE TO THOSE WHO HELPED HIM

Elian Gonzalez, the young Cuban castaway whose international custody battle ended in his dramatic seizure from a Miami home five years ago, addressed a crowd Friday, thanking Cubans and Americans alike for fighting for his return to the island.

Elian, 11, read a speech at a televised event in Havana marking the fifth anniversary of the April 22 raid in which armed U.S. federal agents snatched him from his Miami relatives in the first step toward returning him to Cuba.

"Five years ago I returned to my dad," he said. "When I saw him, I became very happy. I could hug him. I could see my little brother. That was the happiest day of my life."

Though the Cuban boy frequently appears in public alongside his father, this was the first time he spoke at an event open to the international press.

Elian was found clinging to an inner tube off the south Florida coast in November 1999. His mother perished with 10 other adults in a failed attempt to reach the United States.

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