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The BBC's Ade Akintonwa
The strength of public emotion has reached fever pitch
 real 28k

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant reports from Miami
"Anti-Castro Cuban exiles are gearing up for a display of civil disobedience."
 real 28k

Thursday, 30 March, 2000, 00:32 GMT 01:32 UK
Tensions high over Elian case
elian
The US Government wants to send Elian back to Cuba
Tensions are high in Miami as a deadline approaches for the resolution of the custody battle over shipwrecked Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez.

United States immigration officials are meeting Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez in a final attempt to convince him to surrender the boy if an appeal against his return to Cuba fails.



The federal government is tossing fuel to the fire

Mayor Alex Penelas
If the relatives do not sign an agreement to hand him over, the authorities will begin moves on Thursday to send Elian back to his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, in Cuba.

Cuban President Fidel Castro has said that Mr Gonzalez is "ready to travel to the United States immediately" to take charge of his son during the legal process.

President Castro said Elian's father would be joined on his trip by family members, Cuban schoolmates and teachers of the boy, as well as legal, medical and psychiatric experts in order to prepare his "readaptation" to family and school circles.

"We have the perfect formula for reinserting Elian," President Castro said.

Previously, Juan Miguel Gonzalez had said he would not travel to the United States unless he was sure it was to bring home Elian.

Human chain

Meanwhile, Cuban exile groups are preparing to form a human chain around Elian's relatives' home in the Little Havana district of Miami to prevent federal agents repatriating him.

Lorry drivers have begun blocking roads by slowly circling the house, and a candlelit vigil is planned.


uncle and elian
Lazaro Gonzalez has been taking care of Elian

Alex Penelas, the mayor of Miami-Dade county, said there may be civil unrest if the US Justice Department continues with its threats to repatriate Elian.

"The federal government is provoking the community," Mr Penelas said.

"They are tossing fuel to the fire."

Saying that he was speaking for other mayors in the Miami area, Mr Penelas added that local authorities would hold US President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno responsible for any unrest or violence.

President Clinton said that Elian's family in Florida should "observe the rule of law".

Appeal

The Miami relatives have been caring for Elian since he was rescued from the sea last November after a boat carrying illegal Cuban immigrants sank off the Florida coast, drowning his mother.

They are appealing against a federal judge's ruling that the boy should be reunited with his father.

The US Government, which wants to return Elian to his father in Cuba, insists it is bending over backwards to accommodate the Miami relatives by granting Lazaro Gonzalez another chance to promise to give him up if the appeal fails.

The Gonzalez family's lawyers have reportedly said they doubt the uncle will comply with the proposal.

"I won't cooperate in anything. The boy lives in my house and they'll have to go find him there. I'm not going to deliver him to any immigration office," Mr Gonzalez said.


slide
Elian was rescued from the sea last November
Legal experts believe they may try to obtain an injunction which would prevent the government from deporting Elian.

Alternatively, they may be gambling that the Clinton administration does not have the political will to follow through with the threat to repatriate the boy.

Leaders of the anti-Castro Cuban exile community in Miami have warned that Al Gore will suffer in November's presidential election if Elian is sent back home.

Political analysts say that in a tight presidential race, as this one is expected to be, the Cuban vote is absolutely critical.

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See also:

27 Mar 00 | Americas
Elian thinks his mother is alive
27 Mar 00 | Americas
Castro confident of Elian's return
25 Mar 00 | Americas
US sets new Elian deadline
22 Mar 00 | Americas
Father ready to take Elian home
03 Feb 00 | Americas
Elian: View from Cuba
29 Jan 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
The Dalai Lama of Little Havana
11 Dec 99 | Americas
Asylum bid for shipwreck boy
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