Miami in turmoil as police chief quits over Elian

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The Independent US

Miami was in political turmoil yesterday after its mayor dismissed the city's manager and the police chief announced his early retirement in the aftermath of the Elian Gonzalez affair. The police chief, William O'Brien, said he was no longer prepared to serve under a mayor as "destructive and divisive" as Joe Carollo.

The upheavals only aggravated the city's ethnic and political divisions and heightened passions already inflamed by the five-month stay of Elian Gonzalez with his relatives and its ending last weekend. The atmosphere at the meeting called by Mr O'Brien to make public his premature retirement was akin to a football match, with his statements punctuated by cheers from his supporters.

The mayor was reportedly furious that the police chief had not passed to him the hour's notice of the raid he had received from the Justice Department. The mayor, who is elected, does not have the authority to dismiss the police chief. That power resides with the city manager - who is appointed - and it was Donald Warshaw's refusal to exercise that authority that is thought to have precipitated his removal.

Mr O'Brien said yesterday that the raid was a matter of law and order, not politics, and that the law precluded him from informing the mayor. He was completely unrepentant. "Even if I wasn't bound by law, there is no way that I would let him know about it. If the word had got out, there would have been a confrontation astronomically greater than there was."

Mr Carollo, who is of Cuban descent himself and has openly sided with the Miami relatives in their fight to retain custody of Elian, says he should have been informed. At least one senior Miami police officer accompanied the federal officers on the Little Havana raid; the force was on alert a few blocks from the house.

There was tumult at a council meeting on Thursday when Mr Carollo announced the dismissal of Mr Warshaw. Hundreds of protesters, mostly Cuban émigrés, gathered outside, cheering and booing as developments inside were relayed to them.

Mr Carollo denied that the sacking of Mr Warshaw was in any way connected with "little Elian", claiming the manager had undermined his position as mayor by criticising him behind his back, lying and trying to turn council officials against him. The widespread belief in Miami, however, was that Mr Carollo was punishing Mr Warshaw for his refusal to dismiss the city's police chief after last Saturday's raid to snatch Elian.

Miami's Cubans, who staged a day-long strike on Tuesday,plan a new demonstration in the city today. The thrust of this protest is against alleged police brutality during the sometimes violent protests last weekend.

While Miami continued to seethe, Elian and his immediate family were living in seclusion at the guarded Wye River compound in Maryland. The relatives from Miami, who spent almost a week in Washington trying to see Elian, finally abandoned their efforts on Thursday and returned home, vowing to continue their fight through the courts. The appeals court ruled, however, that they had no right to a meeting with Elian and rejected their plea for the appointment of a legal guardian to defend his interests.

The appeal on Elian's immigration status is due to be heard in Atlanta on 11 May.