MIAMI -- U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno made clear today she is considering using force to reunite Elian Gonzalez with his father, but is trying to avoid violence.
''There may come a time when there is no other alternative. But we've got to do it in a careful, thoughtful way,'' Reno told reporters in Washington today. She refused to give any timetable on any action, but said the government was waiting for a crucial federal court ruling.
She said she didn't regret traveling to Miami to try to work out an agreement, which failed when the boy's great-uncle defied her demand to return the boy. Since then, there has been a stalemate in the case as the federal appeals panel considers whether the government can remove the boy from the country.
''If the criticism of me is that I'm trying to avoid violence, if the criticism of me is that I'm trying to avoid that little boy being hurt ... I plead guilty,'' she said.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has had written arguments from government attorneys and those for the boy's Miami relatives since Friday night.
At the Little Havana home where Elian lives with his relatives, emotions spilled over Tuesday night as a man was hustled off in a police car after angering the crowd. More than 100 people pushed and shoved him away from the home before police intervened.
''I was holding a sign that said 'Send Elian Home,''' the man said before he was taken away shouting, ''Let the kid go back to his father!'' Cuban-American leaders called the man a pro-Castro instigator.
Later, a second man was escorted off the block by police after he yelled, ''The child should go back to his father,'' police and witnesses said.
''These are people who come to fight with us,'' said Esteban Nunes, a 60-year-old construction worker, said of the counter-protester. ''He doesn't have the right to do it here. He can do it away from here. This is a sacred place for the child.''
Earlier Tuesday, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., urged the crowd to remain peaceful: ''Violence is not an option. Whoever threatens violence is an enemy, an enemy of this child.''
Elian has captured headlines here and in Cuba ever since fishermen found him clinging to an inner tube off the Florida Coast in November. His mother and 10 others drowned in an attempt to flee Cuba.
Lazaro Gonzalez was awarded temporary custody and the boy has stayed at his great-uncle's home since then. The Miami relatives say Elian will be better off living with them, and their bid for an asylum hearing is also before the appeals court, with oral arguments scheduled for May 11.
The Clinton administration, however, has pressed for the reunion of Elian with his father, saying only he can speak for the boy on immigration matters. Last week, federal officials revoked the temporary custody arrangement made with Lazaro Gonzalez.
The boy's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, flew to Washington on April 6 and has been waiting to meet his son and take him back to Cuba. The government has said he is willing to wait in the United States for the asylum issue to be settled -- if he has custody of Elian.
Outside the home Tuesday night, Rose Roque was tired after a long day at work. But the fiftysomething secretary said: ''I have to be here.''
Not far away, Orlando Garcia was finishing up a day of selling small Cuban and American flags. He figured he had sold 20 or 30 of the little banners at $5 apiece -- a so-so day.
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