Miami (CNSNews.com) - Thunderstorms in the Miami area Thursday evening did not dampen the spirits of Cuban nationals in the Little Havana section of the city, where hundreds demonstrated and celebrated a federal court order letting 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez remain in the US -- at least temporarily.
Hundreds of people on foot and in vehicles waved Cuban and American flags and placards supporting Elian Thursday night as federal officials contemplated their next move in efforts to send the boy back to Cuba with his father, who is currently in the Washington, DC area.
The Miami Police Department established a roadblock near the house where Gonzalez is staying with American relatives, and police patrolled the area in large numbers, though there was no indication of any unrest during the early evening hours.
Authorities would not say how many police had been assigned to patrol the area, after earlier announcements by Miami officials that the city would not assist federal authorities in removing the boy from his Miami relatives.
Signs reading "Viva Elian," "Freedom is not negotiable," and "Clinton, Fidel's accomplice" were among the dozens of placards carried by Cuban nationals, who support the efforts of the boy's American family to keep him in the US.
"We are celebrating the liberty of Elian. We are happy with the court order," delaying federal intervention in the case, said one unidentified car dealer in Little Havana.
Elian's Miami relatives won a legal reprieve Thursday when an Atlanta appeals court granted a temporary stay on removing Elian from the United States.
The order, by Judge J.L. Edmondson of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, could be confirmed or rejected by a three-judge panel that is expected to consider it very shortly - possibly Friday. The government has until 9:30 Friday morning to present its argument to the court.
Last month, a federal judge upheld an INS ruling that Elian's father, not his Miami relatives, has the right to decide whether his son stays in the United States or returns to Cuba. It is that ruling that the Miami relatives are appealing.
Even before the Atlanta appeals court intervened on Thursday, Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, had defied a Justice Department order to give up the child at a Miami-area airport at 2 p.m. on Thursday afternoon.
The Washington Post on Friday quoted an unidentified senior official in Washington as saying that the Clinton administration expected Elian to be in his father's custody "in the next day or so."
That official indicated the standoff would not be allowed to continue through the weekend, but there's no word of how or when the end might come.
After the flurry of activity Thursday, big questions loom on Friday.
Even if the three-judge panel in Atlanta confirms the order keeping Elian in the United States pending the outcome of his relatives' appeal, US Attorney General Janet Reno may still be able to transfer custody of Elian to his father, who remains in the United States.
But given their previous defiance, it's unlikely Elian's Miami relatives would give him up, even if the child is under court orders to remain in the United States until the appeal is heard.
Juan Miguel Gonzalez is said to be increasingly frustrated by the delays and maneuvers blocking his reunion with his son.