MIAMI - Elian Gonzalez's father lashed out at his Miami relatives on Sunday, accusing them of ''child abuse'' for turning his son against him and insisting that the 6-year-old boy wants to return to Cuba.
With the boy's fate still before federal judges, Juan Miguel Gonzalez said on CBS' ''60 Minutes'' that he didn't believe a video taped at the relatives' home in which his son said he didn't want to go.
''This is child abuse and mistreatment what they're doing to this boy,'' Gonzalez said. ''The way they're abusing him, turning him against his father ... he's suffering more here amongst them than he suffered in the sea.''
He also accused the relatives of manipulating his son to believe that his mother still may show up someday - in this country.
''He hasn't had time to mourn for and feel for the death of his mother,'' Gonzalez said. ''Everything they've done with him has been abusive.''
Since he arrived in the United States on April 6, Gonzalez has spoken with Elian three times - all by telephone. He insisted that his son has told him he wants to return to Cuba.
''He's told me so,'' Gonzalez told ''60 Minutes.'' The Miami relatives are ''putting a bunch of toys in front of a 6-year-old. He cannot decide for himself. The one that decides for him is me, his father.''
At the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, where Elian has lived for nearly five months, the family and the boy was outside during the time of the broadcast. They thought the interview was going to be broadcast later, said Donato Dalrymple, one of the fisherman who rescued the boy.
Family members did not make themselves available after the show. Protesters, however, dismissed Juan Miguel's comments as either selfish or the manipulations of Fidel Castro.
''This means he doesn't have any heart,'' said Sergio Perez, 49, a mechanic who lives a block away. ''He doesn't have any feelings.''
Earlier, protesters prayed for divine help as Easter week began, waving palm fronds and posters of the Cuban boy and Jesus. Priests joined the crowd of at least 150 to offer a religious service.
''There are many people who tell us that we should give up this fight,'' said Martin Anorga, an evangelical pastor. ''But we will follow in the path that the Lord has shown us, despite those who want to get in our way.''
He called on God to ''reduce to ashes'' the Castro government.
Elian played in the sun and raced with other children. His father attended church in Washington.
Both sides are waiting for a response from a federal appeals court in Atlanta, which issued a temporary injunction Thursday blocking Elian from leaving the country. That order defused a tense standoff when Lazaro Gonzalez, the boy's great-uncle, refused the government's demand to hand over the boy.
The government wants the appeals court to suspend the injunction and order Lazaro Gonzalez to release Elian so he can return with his father to Cuba. The relatives want the court to let them meet with Elian's father without being required to let Elian go.
The Clinton administration has said only Juan Miguel Gonzalez can speak for his son on immigration matters.
Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, the nun and university president who presided over an earlier meeting with the boy's Cuban grandmothers, told ABC's ''This Week'' that the family will meet with the father but is concerned about Cuban influence.
''The family is prepared to go anywhere at this point where adult members can speak, come to grips, if they have to yell and scream, and perhaps end with a reconciliation and healing,'' O'Laughlin said Sunday. ''Holy Week could be the time to do this.''
At the house, the days of tense waiting showed. One protester urged others to bring a video camera to document what happens if the government moves in to take the boy. A few showed up later with cameras.
Many worried that their cause to keep the boy would fail on Monday - the 39th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, an aborted invasion of Cuba by CIA-trained exiles that left much bitterness among the Cuban-American community.
''We were betrayed by the government, by (President) Kennedy, and if they turned the child back over, it will be a second betrayal,'' said Josefa Gonzalez, who left Cuba in 1962 when she was 4.
Elian's relatives have cared for him since November, when he was found clinging to an inner tube in the Florida Straits. His mother and 10 other people fleeing Cuba drowned when their boat sank.
Lazaro Gonzalez last week released an ''open letter'' to the government asking for a reprieve in the custody battle during Easter week, recalling cease-fires in conflicts in Kosovo and the Persian Gulf.
On the Net:
Immigration and Naturalization Service: http://www.ins.usdoj.gov
Miami relatives: http://libertyforelian.org