The death toll from fierce street battles in downtown West Kingston has risen to 44 and is expected to climb further as Jamaican security forces continue efforts to flush out the alleged drugs baron Christopher “Dudus” Coke. The latest figures were released after a team led by the public defender Earl Witter and including the Jamaican Red Cross visited the Tivoli Gardens district, scene of the worst fighting.
Witter told local media: “The police, I gather, have put out a figure of some 26 dead so far. Our own headcount supersedes that. In fact we visited the morgue and were told that no fewer than 35 bodies were lodged there, and most of them were males, mainly young adults.” While at the morgue his team was told of another nine bodies being collected, he said. At least 37 people are reported to have been injured and the government has appealed for blood donations. In addition 211 people including six women have been detained. The team was sent in by the Jamaican prime minister, Bruce Golding, following claims of abuse by police and soldiers who stormed the Tivoli Gardens ghetto on Monday in search of Coke, 42, wanted on drug and gun-running charges in the US. He is still at large, with unconfirmed reports saying he slipped out of Tivoli Gardens on Monday while Jamaican soldiers were engaged in an intense firefight. Civilians have been the main victims during three days of street battles between security forces and gunmen loyal to Coke, the alleged leader of the notorious Shower Posse gang, who have erected barricades of barbed wire and junked cars.
Soldiers have told local media of five-hour gun battles in the streets.
A state of emergency has been declared in the West Kingston area, said to be Coke’s stronghold and where he is regarded as a benefactor by many people. The intensity of the fighting in the heart of the West Kingston slums, which is Golding’s own constituency, has taken the government by surprise, the prime minister has admitted. More than 2,000 soliders flooded into the neighbourhood after Jamaica agreed to extradite Coke to the US. Residents in the no-go area have complained of grenades being thrown by soldiers and of bodies being burned in the streets. Witter said they had seen no evidence of bodies being burned. Golding told MPs: “The government deeply regrets the loss of lives, especially those of members of the security services and innocent, law-abiding citizens caught in the crossfire. “The security forces were directed to take all practical steps to avoid casualties as much as possible.” The “most thorough investigations” would be undertaken to examine all deaths caused by troops or police, he said. The country’s security forces have a reputation for slipshod investigations and being too quick on the trigger.
Security agents would go after “criminal gunmen in whatever community they may be ensconced”, he said.
Government officials told reporters all the dead civilians in West Kingston were men, but people inside the slums who called local radio stations claimed there had been indiscriminate shooting during the all-out assault by police and soldiers. Gunmen fighting for Coke describe him as a “godfather” figure who helps provide services and protection to the poor West Kingston community. The services and protection are allegedly funded by a criminal empire that seemed untouchable until the US demanded his extradition. Coke, also known as the President, has built a loyal following and turned the neighbourhood into his stronghold. One placard seen at a barricade read: “Jesus died for us. We will die for Dudus.” US authorities claim he has amassed a vast arsenal in his Kingston home turf and has been trafficking cocaine to the streets of New York since the mid-90s, allegedly hiring island women to hide the drugs on themselves on flights to the US. The UK Foreign Office is advising British nationals to avoid the areas of West Kingston – Tivoli and Denham Town in particular – and Mountain View because of “substantial unrest including gunfire”. “There remains an increased risk of further outbreaks of civil disorder and street violence in Kingston and possibly in other urban centres in Jamaica,” says the Foreign Office advice. The Shower Posse, referred to by the FBI as “the most violent and notorious criminal organisation ever in America”, is believed responsible for more than 1,000 deaths in the US and Jamaica during the cocaine wars of the 1980s. Earning its name from its “showering” of bullets at rivals during gun battles, it operates mainly in Jamaica, the US and Canada. A splinter group called the President Click is known to have operated in the UK – in parts of Brixton in south London known as Little Tivoli. Former Shower Posse leaders include Coke’s father, Lester Coke, who died in a mysterious fire in his prison cell in 1992 while awaiting extradition to the US on drug and murder charges.
Jamaica police: 30 dead in battle with drug gang
KINGSTON, JamaicaThousands of heavily armed police and soldiers continued an assault into the capital’s most violent slums on Tuesday, hunting for weapons and battling die-hard defenders of a powerful Jamaican gang leader sought by the U.S. Officials said at least 30 people have died.
Jamaica’s security forces, reeling from bold attacks by masked gangsters loyal to underworld boss Christopher “Dudus” Coke, were in the midst of a nearly daylong assault in the heart of West Kingston’s ramshackle slums, long afflicted by gang strife.
On Tuesday, the third consecutive day of unrest, masked gunmen in West Kingston vanished down side streets barricaded with barbed wire and junked cars intended to block outsiders. The sound of gunfire echoed across the neighborhoods in Jamaica’s south coast, far from the all-inclusive tourist meccas of the north shore. Police spokesman Corporal Richard Minott told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the fighting in West Kingston alone has killed 26 civilians one security official. Police had reported that earlier fighting killed two officers and a soldier. It was not immediately clear what was happening inside the patchwork of slums where Coke’s supporters began massing last week after Prime Minister Bruce Golding dropped his nine-month refusal to extradite Coke, who has ties to his political party.
Kingston streets outside the battle zones were mostly empty, schools and numerous businesses were closed, hospitals offered only emergency services and the government appealed for donations of blood. The government on Sunday implemented a monthlong state of emergency. The violence has not spilled into the capital’s wealthier neighborhoods, but gangs from slums just outside the capital have joined the fight, erecting barricades on roadways and shooting at troops. In Spanish Town, a rough community just outside the areas where the government has installed a state of emergency, police reported that a firefight killed two local people, including a little boy. In the gang-heavy town of Portmore, police said gunmen sprayed bullets at a minivan ferrying local people. It was not clear if anyone died.
But West Kingston, which includes the Trenchtown slum where reggae superstar Bob Marley was raised, remains the epicenter of the violence. Gangsters loyal to Coke began barricading the area’s streets and preparing for battle immediately after Golding caved in last Monday to a growing public outcry over his opposition to extradition. Jamaica’s leader, whose represents West Kingston in Parliament, had claimed the U.S. indictment relied on illegal wiretap evidence. Security Minister Dwight Nelson said “police are on top of the situation,” but gunfire was reported in several poor communities and brazen gunmen even shot up Kingston’s central police station. The drug trade is deeply entrenched in Jamaica, which is the largest producer of marijuana in the region and where gangs have become powerful organized crime networks involved in international gun smuggling. It fuels one of the world’s highest murder rates; the island of 2.8 million people had about 1,660 homicides in 2009. In a sun-splashed island known more for reggae music and all-inclusive resorts, the violence erupted Sunday afternoon after nearly a week of rising tensions over the possible extradition of Coke to the United States, where he faces a possible sentence of life in prison. He leads one of the gangs that control politicized slums known as “garrisons.” Political parties created the gangs in the 1970s to rustle up votes. The gangs have since turned to drug trafficking, but each remains closely tied to a political party. Coke’s gang is tied to the governing Labor Party. The U.S. State Department said it was “the responsibility of the Jamaican government to locate and arrest Mr. Coke.” A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman denied widespread rumors that U.S. officials were meeting with Coke’s lawyers.
Coke’s lead attorney, Don Foote, told reporters his legal team had planned to have talks with U.S. officials at the embassy but the meeting was canceled.
Foote refused to say whether Coke was hunkered down in the barricaded Tivoli Gardens slum or was somewhere else in the country
source – The Huffington Post
KINGSTON, Jamaica — Masked men defending a reputed drug lord sought by the United States torched a police station and traded gunfire with security forces in a patchwork of barricaded slums in Jamaica’s capital Sunday. The government declared a state of emergency as sporadic gunshots rang out in gritty West Kingston, stronghold of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, a Jamaican “don” charged in the U.S. with drug and arms trafficking. His defiant supporters turned his Tivoli Gardens neighborhood and other areas into a virtual fortress with trashed cars and barbed wire.
Four police stations came under heavy fire from gangsters roaming the streets with high-powered guns. In barricaded Hannah Town, close to Tivoli Gardens, black smoke spiraled into the sky from one that was set aflame by molotov cocktails. Officers fled the burning station in impoverished West Kingston, where a 2001 standoff between gunmen and security forces killed 25 civilians as well as a soldier and a constable.
Authorities said two security officers had been wounded by Sunday night.
Police said the attacks were unprovoked. It called for all “decent and law-abiding citizens” in the troubled areas to immediately evacuate their homes and said security forces would ferry them out safely. Police Commissioner Owen Ellington said “scores of criminals” from gangs across the Caribbean island had traveled to West Kingston to join the fight. “It is now clear that criminal elements are determined to launch coordinated attacks on the security forces,” he said. In a gritty section of the capital of an island known more for reggae and all-inclusive resorts, the violence erupted after nearly a week of rising tensions over the possible extradition of Coke to the United States. Prime Minister Bruce Golding had stalled the extradition request for nine months with claims the U.S. indictment relied on illegal wiretap evidence. After Golding reversed himself amid growing public discontent over his opposition, Coke’s supporters began barricading streets and preparing for battle.
Before Sunday’s shooting started, police urged the neighborhood boss to surrender, calling the heavy barricades encircling his slum stronghold a sign of “cowardice.” The U.S., Canada and Britain issued travel alerts Friday warning of possible violence and unrest in Jamaica. Most islanders have been avoiding downtown Kingston. The state of public emergency, limited to the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew, will be in effect for one month unless extended or revoked by lawmakers, the government said. In a national address Sunday night, Golding said the order gives authorities the power to restrict movement and effectively battle violent criminals. Security forces will also be able to conduct searches and detain people without warrants. Golding stressed that Kingston “is not being shut down,” and schools and businesses outside the battle zone will be open. Coke is described as one of the world’s most dangerous drug lords by the U.S. Justice Department. He has ties to the governing Jamaica Labour Party and holds significant sway over the West Kingston area represented in Parliament by Golding. Golding’s fight against the extradition strained relations with Washington, which questioned Jamaica’s reliability as an ally in the fight against drugs. His handling of the matter, particularly his hiring of a U.S. firm to lobby Washington to drop the extradition request, provoked an outcry in Jamaica that threatened his political career.
Coke, who typically avoids the limelight, has remained silent. He faces life in prison if convicted on charges filed against him in New York. Jamaica’s political history is intertwined with the street gangs that the two main parties helped organize – and some say armed – in Kingston’s poor neighborhoods in the 1970s and ’80s. The gangs controlled the streets and intimidated voters at election time. In recent years political violence has waned, and many of the killings in Kingston now are blamed on the active drug and extortion trade.
Coke was born into Jamaica’s gangland. His father was the leader of the notorious Shower Posse gang, a cocaine-trafficking band with agents in Jamaica and the U.S. that began operating in the 1980s and was named for its members’ tendency to spray victims with bullets. The son took over from the father, and expanded the gang into selling marijuana and crack cocaine in the New York area and elsewhere, U.S. authorities allege.
Lawyers for Coke – who in addition to “Dudus” is also known as “Small Man” and “President” – have challenged his extradition in Jamaica’s Supreme Court. As a West Kingston community “don,” Coke has acted as an ad hoc civic leader and provides protection and jobs.