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Miami relatives told they cannot visit boy

Five days after Elian Gonzalez was seized from his Miami relatives by federal agents, the relatives were told in federal court yesterday that they had no right to visit him at the Maryland compound where he is staying with his father, stepmother and baby step-brother.

The 11th US appeals court, the same body that forbade Elian from returning to Cuba until the battle over his custody exhausted all judicial avenues, turned down a series of requests from the Miami family for "regular and reasonable access" and for the appointment of an outside guardian unconnected to either side of the feuding Gonzalez family.

Instead, the court said the Miami relatives could see only the reports of a psychiatrist and a social worker monitoring the six-year-old's welfare.

The ruling was the latest indication that Lazaro Gonzalez, the boy's great-uncle, and his friends were losing their battle to keep Elian with them in the United States. Despite their howls of indignation over last Saturday's pre-dawn raid, in which masked and armed law enforcement officials burst into the Gonzalez household in Little Havana, Miami, and ripped Elian from the arms of a family friend, they appear unable to sustain their claims of illegal seizure in court.

The court-appointed psychiatrist has said Elian will probably suffer no long-term harm from the trauma of the police raid. Janet Reno, the Attorney General, who ordered the raid, insisted the agents had made a "show of force" without actually using force when taking Elian.

Meanwhile, in the Cuban capital, Havana, the US diplomatic mission issued visas to four of Elian's friends and one to each of their parents. They were expected to fly to the US to join members of Elian's family and his paediatrician.