Rallies held in response to tensions over Elian Gonzalez

MIAMI - Thousands of people rallied Saturday to call for unity amid mounting tensions following the removal of Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives.

More than 3,000 demonstrators in Cutler Ridge in south Miami-Dade County lined the streets and waved U.S. flags in support of the federal action.

''For the last five months all we've seen are the Cuban-Americans protesting,'' said Tom Strybala, 37. ''Why is it going to make things more divided for us to protest? It doesn't seem right to sit by and not say anything.''

At a major intersection in surburban Miami, about 350 people waved American flags and criticized recent actions taken by Miami Mayor Joe Carollo and held signs that read, ''Joe Must Go'' and ''Disagree, but do not disrespect.''

No arrests were made at either rally, police said.

The city has been divided since April 22, when armed agents with the Immigration and Naturalization Service seized the 6-year-old Cuban boy and reunited him with his father. Elian had lived with the Miami relatives since November, when his mother and 10 others drowned in a boat crossing from Cuba.

The very public tug-of-war between city officials since the raid has sparked criticism that the city government is out of control.

Carollo criticized the police chief for not alerting him in advance about the federal raid, and fired the city manager. Police Chief William O'Brien resigned, saying he was tired of the mayor's destructive politics. City Manager Donald Warshaw remains in office, following a court injunction that delayed his removal until after an investigation.

''I don't like what has happened with the mayor and with City Hall,'' said Gildo Rivas, 71, a Cuban-American who has lived in Miami for 45 years.

Robert Pearson-Martinez, 28, said he is tired of feeling misrepresented in his community. ''Lawlessness has been endorsed at the highest levels of city government,'' he said.

Rally organizers from Citizens for a Better Community said the gathering was intended to help patch community divisions.

Francis Quinn, vice chair and treasurer of the executive committee of the Reform Party, encouraged voters to express their displeasure in the next election.

''I brought 1,100 voter registrations forms today, and I hope to have them all filled,'' Quinn said. ''But I'm also out here to protest the current political system of Miami.''


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