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BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Miami
"The second setback in three days for Elian's father and the US government"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 11 January, 2000, 05:16 GMT
Judge backs Cuban exiles

 Elian Gonzalez Elian is greeted by neighbours at his relatives' home in Miami

Cuban exiles in Miami have won another tactical victory in their campaign to keep a Cuban boy from being sent back to the communist-ruled island.

A judge in Miami has granted temporary custody of the six-year-old Elian Gonzalez to his Florida-based great-uncle. Judge Rosa Rodriguez ruled that her family court had jurisdiction over Elian and issued a temporary protective order, blocking the boy's return to his father in Cuba.

Today is a great day for Elian Gonzalez and a great day for the constitution of the United States
Spencer Eig, lawyer for Elian's relatives

She said she would hold a hearing on 6 March, where she would take evidence from both sides. She urged the boy's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, to attend and warned that his absence could lead to custody being awarded to the Miami relatives. He has said he has no plans to travel to the US.

Cuban exile groups in Miami welcomed the latest hearing.

"I think this is the second miracle in the case of Elian. I think truth and persistence has paid off," said Ramon Saul Sanchez, leader of the exile group Democracy Movement.

Anger in Cuba

Cubans reacted angrily to the decision. At the latest rally in front of Havana's US Interests Section, student leader Hassan Perez denounced the ruling.

What they are doing is prolonging the process. They know at the end of the day that they have to bring him to Cuba
Leonil Feliu, Havana protestor

The crowd cheered as he called the Cuban American leaders fascists, thieves, terrorists and kidnappers, accusing them of displaying Elian like a hunting trophy.

He said they defied common sense as well as US public opinion and President Clinton.

Cuban state media are making the most of divisions between the US administration, which wants Elian returned to his father on the island, and Cuban American leaders who want the boy to stay in Miami.

Immigration ruling

Demonstration in Cardenas Tens of thousands of Cubans have demanded Elian's return

Elian's relatives in the US petitioned the court for custody on the grounds that he could suffer harm if he was returned to Cuba.

The boy has been at the centre of an international custody battle since he was rescued clinging to an inner tube off Florida, after his mother, stepfather and nine others drowned in an illegal attempt to reach America.

The latest legal hearing came in response to a decision last week by the US immigration service that Elian should be returned his father in Cuba.

That decision led to widespread protests by Cuban exiles in Miami, with more than 100 demonstrators being arrested.

In Cuba, there have been mass government-backed rallies demanding Elian's return.

A US congressional committee has also issued a subpoena for Elian, blocking his return to Cuba until the courts ruled on whether he should go back or not.

The petition for temporary custody of Elian, filed by his great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez, said he faced the threat of "imminent harm by being summarily removed from the State of Florida and returned to Fidel Castro's communist regime".

Juan Miguel Gonzalez Mr Gonzalez says he will not travel to the US to seek his son's return

It claimed that Elian's father must have been forced by the Cuban authorities to say he wanted his son returned, and invited him to go to Florida to state his wishes freely.

Mr Gonzalez has accused his uncle and other relatives in Miami of subjecting his son to evil and psychological torture.

At his home in Cardenas, Cuba, he said: "At no time have I thought about going to the United States, neither tomorrow or any of these days. I would like to see him here in Cardenas wrapped in the Cuban flag."

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See also:
06 Jan 00 |  Americas
Analysis: US-Cuba relations in the spotlight
13 Dec 99 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Shipwrecked Cuban boy stirs mixed emotions
06 Jan 00 |  Talking Point
Should the Cuban boy go back?

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