At least three people, including two soldiers and one policeman, have been killed in Kingston as the Jamaican government pursues a drug boss wanted in the US for drugs and arms trafficking. The violence prompted several airlines to cancel flights.
AFP - Running battles between Jamaican authorities and drug gang members turned part of Kingston into a warzone, with the death toll rising to at least three as gunmen fired on security forces hunting an alleged drug kingpin.
One soldier was killed when troops supporting police plunged into the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood, breaking through barricades erected by supporters of Christopher "Dudus" Coke, who authorities want to extradite to the United States.
Explosions shook the impoverished neighborhood sending out thick plumes of smoke, a day after Prime Minister Bruce Golding's government declared a state of emergency.
On Sunday night, two policeman were killed, and two members of the security forces sustained injuries. Another seven were injured Monday.
National Security Minister Dwight Nelson said on national television that he had received unconfirmed reports of several civilian deaths and the airwaves were full of desperate pleas from residents pinned inside building by gunfire.
The ruling Jamaica Labour Party tried to reassure citizens, saying the raids were "inescapable and unavoidable."
"We hope that out of the national crisis there will come a rebirth of Jamaica, the land we love."
Police advised people to remain indoors in Kingston, where power was cut off overnight, describing the threat level as "grave."
"You must realize, we are fighting a war," Hinds said, as local media reported that Jamaican bloodbanks were seeking emergency donations.
Coke enjoys support among some Kingston residents who see him as a sort of local Robin Hood, helping impoverished Jamaicans.
But the US Justice Department has labeled him among the "world's most dangerous narcotics kingpins."
He is accused of leading since the 1990s an international gang known as "The Shower Posse," which US prosecutors say sells marijuana and crack cocaine in the New York area and elsewhere.
He was formally charged in the United States in August with conspiracy to traffic drugs and illegal weapons, and if convicted faces mandatory life imprisonment.
The head of the Organization of the Americas, Jose Miguel Insulza, said the situation in Jamaica was "worrying" and stressed that the regional body "backs with all our force the Jamaican government."
The US embassy suspended non-essential services because of the "deteriorating situation" in Jamaica, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.
Hopes for a resolution rose early Monday after a lawyer for Coke, Don Foote, said he had scheduled a meeting with the US embassy.
However, a spokeswoman for the US embassy, Rebecca Park, said she was not aware of any planned meeting, although she did not rule out dialogue in the future.
Armed supporters of Coke roamed through the streets. Gangs burned down a police station and also stockpiled a large cache of weapons, including large-gauge rifles, officials said.
The violence forced several airlines to cancel flights and a number of countries warned their citizens against travel to Kingston.
Police commissioner Owen Ellington urged his force to respond to what he called "calculated, vile and cold actions" against them.
"Do not hesitate to respond quickly and take decisive action when attacked by these criminals as it is now patently clear that they are hellbent on causing mayhem in the society," Ellington said.
Jamaica has long been a transit point for drug trafficking, but the United States had in the past hailed the government's response to the problem.
More recently, the State Department questioned whether Coke was being protected by ties to the ruling Jamaica Labor Party and cast doubt on "Kingston's commitment to law enforcement cooperation with the US."
Coke's Tivoli Gardens area is Golding's district, and he had hesitated approving Coke's extradition.
But in a national address late Sunday, Golding declared a state of emergency and vowed to pursue Coke's arrest and extradition.
"The criminal element who have placed the society under siege will not be allowed to triumph," Golding said. "We must confront this criminal element with determination and unqualified resolve," he said.
But to some Kingston residents, Coke is more like a godfather. Thousands marched through the city Thursday chanting, "Leave Dudus alone, leave Dudus alone."
"He is next to God," one demonstrator said. "Just like how Jesus died on the cross for us, we are willing to die for Dudus," said another.
Date created : 2010-05-25