THIRTY-ONE PEOPLE, 28 of them civilians and three members of the security forces, have been killed in Jamaica in violence triggered by government moves to extradite an alleged drug lord to the US, police said yesterday.
The security forces had for a second day traded gunfire with gangs defending Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who is resisting extradition to the US on charges of drug-trafficking and gun-running.
At least two policemen and one soldier were killed as army personnel and police engaged in house-to-house firefights against armed supporters of Mr Coke in Tivoli Gardens, West Kingston. The troops, who were supported by helicopter gunships as they moved through the community, failed to capture Mr Coke.
The assault on the enclave followed the government’s declaration of a limited state of emergency in the capital after Mr Coke failed to turn himself in. The government signed an extradition request from Washington after hesitating for several months, alleging that evidence had been obtained by the US through illegal wiretaps.
The city became tense a week ago after prime minister Bruce Golding, in whose constituency Tivoli Gardens is located, announced a state of emergency for four weeks. He said the country needed to “confront powers of evil” in the district.
Several hundred of its residents staged street protests against the extradition of Mr Coke, saying he was a legitimate businessman who supported the community and had done nothing wrong.
Heavy equipment was used by state forces to clear roadblocks erected by gangs around Tivoli Gardens. Police then sealed roads to prevent criminals escaping, a senior police officer said.
Residents of the district told local radio stations they were caught in the crossfire and were unable to leave the area. Some spoke of bombs being detonated and of bodies lying in the streets.
The police said the heavily armed gangs were using women and children as human shields against the security forces, and were being sent to retrieve weapons from gunmen who had been shot.
We are after ‘Dudus’, but we will also have to clean the gangs out of the community and recover their guns, added the senior police officer.
The US says Mr Coke is the leader of the “Shower Posse” gang that has murdered hundreds of people in the US in wars over the control of drug-trafficking.
Although the violence is concentrated in Tivoli Gardens, the police reported yesterday that there have been several shooting incidents in other sections of Kingston and in neighbouring Spanish Town.
Commercial activity in the city was limited yesterday, with most schools closed. Airlines cancelled some flights into Kingston, although the country’s two international airports remained open. The West Indies Cricket Board was contemplating whether it should go ahead with cricket matches between the West Indies and South Africa, which are due to begin in Kingston next week, or move them to another island.
The island’s vital tourism sector was already being affected by cancellations, according to Wayne Cummings, Hotel and Tourist Association president.
Jamaica has been troubled for years by a high rate of violent crime. The police reported that 1,680 people were murdered last year – 62 more than in 2008 – on an island with a population of 2.7 million. Gang-related murders accounted for 52 per cent of the deaths.
The country recently received $1.3 billion (€1.05 billion) in support from the International Monetary Fund to help it overcome the impact of global recession. –
CANUTE JAMES in Kingston
Wednesday, May 26, 2010