Seized in darkness, the little castaway adrift for five months in an international custody battle was placed in his father's arms Saturday after federal agents used battering rams and pepper spray to hustle him from Miami and the relatives fighting to block his return to communist Cuba.

"We're taking you to see your papa," an agent told a terrified Elian Gonzalez, ending the protracted standoff in three frantic minutes with an armed raid that sparked protests through Miami and debate over the Clinton administration's use of force.Crying with fright, the 6-year-old Cuban boy was taken before dawn by agents brandishing rifles and flown to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, where he was in seclusion with his father, stepmother and baby half-brother.

Though in his father's custody, Elian's fate remains unsettled. The courts will ultimately rule on whether the boy should remain in the United States.

Unrest spread through Miami's Little Havana neighborhood as protesters spilled into the streets, lighting street fires and struggling with police carrying batons and shields. More than 230 were arrested.

"What's happening?" Elian yelled in Spanish as riot-clad agents armed with automatic weapons burst into the Miami relatives' home. They found him in a closet in the arms of the same fisherman who had rescued him from the sea on Thanksgiving Day -- and now had to hand him over.

Hours later, the boy whose mother drowned fleeing Cuba was getting reacquainted with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez. Elian smiled as he posed for a picture with his father and was seen in another photo playing with 6-month-old half-brother Hianny. Elian wore a Batman T-shirt.

"He seemed to be very happy to be back with his father," said Gregory Craig, Juan Miguel Gonzalez's lawyer. "It is amazing how quickly that bond re-established itself. It was almost instantaneous."

There was no independent corroboration of the lawyer's account of the reunion.

In Havana, an estimated 400,000 people rallied for a government-organized celebration of the boy's reunion with his father. A chant arose: "Elian, friend! Cuba is with you!"

After the months-long tug of war and failed all-night negotiations, it took officers only minutes to retrieve the boy from the relatives who cared for him since his rescue -- and defied all previous efforts to have him released to his father and returned to Cuba.

The boy who had so often turned an impish face to the world looked terror-stricken in pictures taken by an Associated Press photographer who captured the raid inside the house on film.

"Elian is safe, and no one was seriously hurt," Attorney General Janet Reno said afterward. She said the relatives' intransigence left her no choice but to order the use of force.

Marisleysis Gonzalez, the 21-year-old cousin who had cared for the boy like a mother, wailed and wept through the morning and shouted her disdain for the government.

"To have a 6-year-old crying, 'Don't take me, don't take me' . . . This is not America," she yelled as hundreds of Cuban-Americans poured into the streets to protest what they saw as Washington's betrayal and what they feared would be Cuban President Fidel Castro's propaganda victory.

She and her father, Lazaro Gonzalez, who had temporary custody of Elian, later arrived in Washington to try to see Elian and his father. Donato Dalrymple, the sports fisherman who had rescued Elian on an outing with his cousin, was with them. They met with Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., who accompanied them in a failed to attempt to meet with the father and son at the air base.

As protests mounted in Miami, police fired tear gas into one crowd, stationed two gray buses with bars on the windows in the center of Little Havana and began handcuffing demonstrators.

The few protesters who put up a struggle were beaten down by police and arrested.

At 5 a.m., more than 20 agents in white vans arrived at the house of Lazaro Gonzalez, the boy's great-uncle, and used battering rams to get through the home's chain-link fence and front door.

Maria Elena Quesada, who was at the home, said Elian was screaming "Help me! Help me! Don't take me away!" in Spanish.

"Assassins," shouted supporters who had been keeping constant vigil outside.

Rushed into a van as officials fired clouds of pepper spray to keep the crowds back, Elian was soothed by an immigration agent who told him he was being taken to "papa."

"This may seem very scary," she told him, according to Doris Meissner, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. "It will soon be better."

On the government plane, where he was described as subdued and calm, he was given Play-Doh, a toy airplane, a map and a watch. He talked to his father by telephone and was accompanied by a psychiatrist.

Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who had been staying at a Cuban diplomat's home outside of Washington since he left Havana more than two weeks ago with a personal send-off from Castro, was told about the raid as soon as his son was away from the scene.

The decision to act was made by Reno, President Clinton said during a brief question and answer session in the White House Rose Garden. "She managed this, but I fully support what she did," he said.

Vice President Al Gore refused Saturday to support the administration's intervention, instead issuing a brief statement reiterating his view that the conflict should have been resolved in a family court "with the family coming together."

Reno said she tried to reach a negotiated solution until the final moments but the relatives "kept moving the goal post and raising the hurdles."

The relatives said they were still negotiating and had been put on hold on the telephone by a mediator when the agents arrived. "We're angry and disgusted," said Kendall Coffey, a lawyer for the relatives.

Reno said the boy would stay in the United States pending further court action over the question of asylum, as the federal appeals court ruled -- a statement confirmed by Gonzalez's lawyer.

"Juan Gonzalez has made a commitment to remain in the United States during this appeal, and he will live up to that commitment," Craig said.

A State Department official said the reunited family would stay at the secured air base for a few days and then go to an undisclosed location in the Washington area.

Cautious in his statements about the standoff up to now, George W. Bush, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, sharply criticized the raid and said the dispute should have been settled in Florida family court.

"The chilling picture of a little boy being removed from his home at gunpoint defies the values of America and is not an image a freedom-loving nation wants to show the world," Bush said.

Reno defended sending armed agents to the house, saying officials had been "told on occasion that people would have weapons to prevent it from happening." She did not say whether any weapons were found.

She also said the agent photographed confronting Dalrymple in the closet with Elian had his gun "pointed to the side" and his "finger was not on the trigger."

AP photographs showed the agent with his trigger finger extended alongside the trigger but not gripping it. The gun was pointed slightly off to the side of the huddling man and boy. Examination of the photos showed the gun was set to "S" or safety, a position in which it could not be fired.

Ramon Saul Sanchez, leader of the anti-Castro Democracy Movement, was bleeding from one ear after the raid. He said he was knocked out by an agent using a rifle as a club.

"They were animals," said Jess Garcia, a bystander. "They gassed women and children to take a defenseless child out of here. We were assaulted with no provocation."

"This is terrible," said Cristina Valdes, 67, who was among dozens of people banging on a parked van to vent their anger. "I'm ashamed to be an American. Clinton is a coward, coward, coward."

The government and Juan Miguel Gonzalez insisted that any deal contain an immediate transfer of custody of Elian to him, but the Miami relatives refused.

The deal that had been under discussion called for Juan Miguel Gonzalez and Elian, Lazaro and Marisleysis to move to one of two foundation-owned conference centers near Washington, with formal custody being transferred immediately to the father, a Justice Department official said. The two sides couldn't agree on the custody issue or how long they might live together pending the end of the court battle.

The Miami relatives lost a U.S. District Court battle to get a political asylum hearing for Elian. An appeals court has ordered Elian to stay in this country until it decides that case but did not bar Reno from switching custody. A hearing is set for May 11.

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