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Kingston plunged into chaos as hunt for drug lord continues

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-05-27

Kingston faced a fourth day of deadly violence on Wednesday as police and military forces stepped up a door-to-door manhunt for a fugitive alleged drug lord in the city’s western slums.

Jamaican soldiers and police clashed with armed supporters of fugitive alleged drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke in a fourth day of violence that has left dozens dead and wreaked havoc on the Jamaican capital of Kingston.

“It’s like a hurricane has passed over the city,” FRANCE 24 correspondent Anthony Foster said, reporting from Kingston. “Barricades have been erected, debris is blocking roads, buildings have been broken into, looted and ravaged,” he said of the scene on the ground, adding that it would “take some time for the city to get back to normal”.

Hospital sources said they saw more than 60 bodies brought to a central morgue, although officials confirmed the death toll had reached at least 44. Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding warned the casualty figures would likely rise as the hunt for Coke continues.

“Gun battles between police and armed thugs are still going on," Foster told FRANCE 24. "The entire city is very tense."

Coke’s hometown, the impoverished neighbourhood of West Kingston, has been cordoned off entirely by the fugitive’s supporters using makeshift barricades of tree branches, old cars, tyres and even refrigerators.

“West Kingston is controlled by Coke,” Foster explains, adding that the alleged drug baron will be difficult to apprehend because he benefits from strong popular support among many slum dwellers, who see him as a saviour for offering the jobs, education and security that are sorely lacking in Jamaica.

The United States requested Coke's extradition in August last year for drug trafficking within its borders but Jamaica initially refused, alleging that some of the evidence against him had been gathered through illegal wiretaps. An arrest warrant to begin extradition proceedings was finally issued last week.

State of emergency

The government vowed to continue hunting the elusive fugitive and declared a state of emergency on Sunday as police and troops stepped up their assault on West Kingston.

"The operations being carried out under emergency powers are an extraordinary response to an extraordinary challenge to the safety and security of our citizens," Golding told lawmakers on Tuesday during a heated session of parliament.

"The violence that has been unleashed on the society by armed, criminal elements must be repelled," he added, although he pledged that any excesses arising in connection with the police action would be investigated.

Eyewitnesses told Reuters that military helicopters dropped explosives on civilians in the district of Tivoli Gardens on Monday.

Police have warned Kingston residents to remain indoors and stay away from conflict zones. “People have to realise that we’re fighting a war,” one police chief told reporters.

Officials say the violence has had no impact so far on the island's bauxite, sugar and banana-producing sectors, but some business leaders have complained of a sharp drop in tourism. The United States, United Kingdom and several other European countries have warned their citizens against flying to Kingston while the unrest goes on.

 

Date created : 2010-05-26

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