Tags: Jamaica | kingpin | dead | riots

More Than 60 Dead as Jamaica Hunts for Drug Kingpin

Tuesday, 25 May 2010 10:14 PM

KINGSTON - Gun battles raging in the Jamaican capital have left more than 60 people dead, mostly civilians, hospital sources said Tuesday, as troops fanned out across the city hunting an alleged drug kingpin.

With violence turning much of Kingston into a war zone, three trucks loaded with bodies, including a baby, unloaded their grim cargo at a morgue in one of the main hospital complexes, an AFP correspondent saw.

Hundreds of troops and police have been deployed to hunt down Christopher "Dudus" Coke, wanted in the United States on drug-trafficking charges, amid a week-long standoff with his loyal supporters.

The clashes appeared to be spreading after security forces Monday stormed the western seafront slum of Tivoli Gardens in their bid to capture Coke, whose extradition order was signed by the government a week ago.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding vowed the security forces would restore law and order -- three days after his government declared a state of emergency amid the worst violence to hit the Caribbean nation in decades.

"The government deeply regrets the loss of lives of members of the security forces, and those of innocent law abiding citizens who were caught in the cross fire," Golding told the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Although the official police death toll stands at 26 civilians and one member of the security forces, Golding warned "it is likely that the number is higher." He ordered two top officials to launch an inquiry into the operation.

Gunfire rattled around the city, as plumes of smoke hung above Tivoli Gardens which Coke's supporters had barricaded last week to thwart his arrest.

Hospital sources told AFP that early Tuesday two trucks bearing "about 50" bodies had been unloaded at the morgue at the Kingston Public Hospital.

An AFP correspondent saw a third truck arrive full of bullet-riddled corpses, including a baby, later in the day. A nurse said there were 12 bodies inside, and they came from a different area to the east of the city called Mountain View.

Police also told AFP they have detained 211 people, including four women, but it was not known if Coke, 42, was among them. He faces life imprisonment if convicted.

Supporters say Coke is a local hero for helping residents pay bills, and even send children to school. Coke himself says he is merely a businessman.

His supporters have stockpiled arms, attacked police and set up barricades around Tivoli Gardens, which is also the parliamentary district of Prime Minister Bruce Golding.

Soldiers dressed in full combat gear and police Tuesday combed the deserted downtown streets, but security officials refused to confirm how people many had been deployed.

For the third day, Kingston was under a state of emergency. Helicopters buzzed overhead and the normally bustling streets were deserted.

Those trapped in Tivoli for more than 24 hours appealed on the radio for help and Mayor Desmond McKenzie said Red Cross officials were heading there to provide assistance.

Residents have been warned to stay home, and the few who ventured out stayed close to walls, diving for cover as gunfire rattled around the area. Schools and stores have shut.

Most of the million tourists who flock to the island every year do not visit Kingston -- long dubbed one of the murder capitals of the world, with 1,700 homicides recorded in 2010 out of a population of 2.8 million.

Instead they flock to the beaches to soak up some sun and the sounds of reggae music, leaving the island's economy heavily dependent on tourism for bringing in valuable foreign currencies.

But airlines have already cancelled some flights to and from the troubled capital, as the clashes intermittently blockaded the international airport.

The United States and other countries have also warned their citizens against travelling to Jamaica.

Drug warfare between rival gangs has long plagued the island which is a key transshipment point for cocaine from South America heading for North American and European markets.

The US Justice Department has labeled Coke one of the "world's most dangerous narcotics kingpins."

He is accused of leading since the 1990s an international gang -- dubbed "The Shower Posse" for the number of bullets it allegedly has rained on foes -- which US prosecutors say sells marijuana and crack cocaine in the New York area and elsewhere.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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KINGSTON - Gun battles raging in the Jamaican capital have left more than 60 people dead, mostly civilians, hospital sources said Tuesday, as troops fanned out across the city hunting an alleged drug kingpin.
Tuesday, 25 May 2010 10:14 PM
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