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Police wage house-to-house search for drug lord as death toll climbs

Video by Aurore Cloe DUPUIS

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-05-27

The death toll from four days of violence in the Jamaican capital of Kingston is rising rapidly as security forces continue a door-to-door hunt for suspected drug trafficker Christopher "Dudus" Coke, who is wanted by the US.

AFP - Slum dwellers seethed with anger Thursday at security forces waging a house-to-house search for a powerful druglord, as the death toll rose in Jamaica's wave of violence without any sign of the operation's target.
  
Police said that 73 bodies have been found in morgues, some in a state of decomposition, although several may not have died in the operation. Three security personnel have died in the four-day-old operation.
  
Heaps of sometimes smoldering garbage littered streets of western Kingston, a world away from Jamaica's world-famous beaches and the stronghold of gangster Christopher "Dudus" Coke -- who is wanted by the United States on drug charges.
  
Outside one ramshackle apartment, a woman who said she been inside for two days pushed with a rake the decomposing body of a cat she found at her doorstep. Residents spoke of heavy gunfire in recent days.
  
"What we need is money and food," said a middle-aged woman named Marlene. "Coke, he take care the community. Not the soldiers, they just shoot."
  
Jamaican security forces escorted a group of journalists into Tivoli Gardens -- even in peacetime notorious for its violence. But residents poured open scorn on the troops, amassing at one point to chant, "We want justice!"
  
One woman grew angry when asked by a foreigner about the ultimate question on security forces' mind -- the whereabouts of Coke.
  
"You want Mr. Coke, you go find Mr. Coke! Not for we here to find Mr. Coke!"
  
Government officials have refused to discuss Coke's whereabouts, with  rumors swirling in Jamaica that he may have escaped the dragnet.
  
"Our best information is that he was not arrested. His whereabouts we cannot tell you," Glenroy Hinds, deputy commissioner of police, told a news conference.
  
US prosecutors accuse Coke and his "Shower Posse" of funneling cocaine and marijuana to New York and other eastern US cities, contributing to violence that has caused thousands of deaths in both countries.
  
But many poor Jamaicans look to Coke as a hero who provides a semblance of protection on some of the world's most dangerous streets, along with small-time jobs and education.
  
Walls were covered with artwork depicting Coke's father and don predecessor, Jim Brown, who died in a mysterious fire at a police jail in 1991.
  
One portrait read "Jim Brown: One Man Against the World," next to images of other revered figures including reggae superstar Bob Marley and Ethiopia's late emperor Haile Selaissie I, a demigod in the Rastafarian faith.
  
The relationships between the gangsters are government are complicated. At election time, Coke had mobilized in for Prime Minister Bruce Golding's Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), while other dons have supported the opposition.
  
Near crumbling guesthouses and restaurants selling jerk chicken -- businesses that according to locals were run with Coke -- graffiti urges support for the JLP and, "We Want Bruce."
  
Golding, who represents Tivoli Gardens in parliament, declared a state of emergency on Sunday after months of hesitation, vowing both to capture Coke and to battle Jamaica's scourge of crime.
  
Despite the anger in the slums, the operation has enjoyed support among many wealthier Jamaicans and much of the mainstream media which have rejoiced at a chance to break the island's long relationship between crime and politics.
  
The United States has strongly supported the operation and provided bulletproof vests to Jamaican security forces, concerned about the island's role as a conduit for drugs.
  
In Washington, the United States and its Caribbean neighbors launched a new initiative to work together to fight drug-traffickers and other transnational criminal gangs.
  
Arturo Valenzuela, the top US diplomat for Latin America, told officials from Caribbean nations that Washington was committing the 45 million dollars to the partnership, known as the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.

Date created : 2010-05-27

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