Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jamaican Prime Minister Declares State of Emergency After Attempts Fail to Extradite National to the United States

Jamaican PM Golding vows to restore order to Kingston

Wednesday, 26 May 2010 1:51 UK

The BBC's Nick Davis says the security offensive seems to be working

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding has vowed to restore order after at least 31 deaths during an anti-drug offensive in Kingston.

He said he regretted the loss of life as security forces battled fighters loyal to a suspected drug trafficker sought by the US.

Mr Golding said police would continue searching for illegal guns and crime suspects.

The whereabouts of alleged drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke are unknown.

He has thousands of loyal followers who have promised to protect him at any cost.

Police say they have detained more than 200 people and seized arms and ammunition in operation involving thousands of police and soldiers, heavuily armed and backed by armoured cars and helicopters.

New gun battles raged on Tuesday as police and soldiers searched Kingston's Tivoli Gardens district for Mr Coke.

The fighting has intermittently blocked the road to Kingston's airport and forced some flights to be cancelled.

Western countries such as the US and Britain have warned their citizens against travel to Kingston and its surrounding area in the current circumstances.

'Lorries piled with bodies'

Prime Minister Golding, who approved Mr Coke's extradition to the US last week after a delay of nine months, reported to parliament on the crisis.

It doesn't feel safe in downtown Kingston today.

Out on the streets, the police are watching for snipers. The occasional bullet whizzed through the air and hit the palm trees.

This is a disaster for Jamaica's reputation. The main offensive is a mile away, but even in the commercial heart of the capital, people are being pinned back against the walls. Normal life is on hold.

Dudas is seen by many here as a kind of Robin Hood figure, a protector of the poor.

And that's why it's hard to see what happens next - the authorities are intent on capturing Dudas; those loyal to him intent on stopping that at whatever cost.

"The operation being carried out under emergency powers are extraordinary measures but they are an extraordinary response to an extraordinary challenge to the safety and security of our citizens," he said.

He added that the government deeply regretted "the loss of lives of members of the security forces and those of innocent law-abiding citizens who were caught in the cross-fire".

Estimates of the death toll vary from 31 to 60 but almost all of the victims are said to be civilians.

Police Director of Communications Karl Angell told Reuters news agency that 26 civilians had been killed and 25 injured in Tivoli Gardens.

Two other civilians were shot dead by suspected supporters of Mr Coke in Spanish Town, an area 14 miles (22km) west of Kingston, officials said.

At least three members of the security forces have also been killed in the violence which began on Sunday.

Hospital sources told AFP news agency that more than 60 bodies had been unloaded on Tuesday at a morgue in one of the Jamaican capital's main hospitals.

AFP's correspondent was first told of two lorries which had delivered "about 50 bodies" to Kingston Public Hospital, then witnessed a third lorry "piled with corpses riddled with bullet wounds, including a baby".

A nurse counted 12 bodies on the third lorry, the correspondent said.

'Big on human rights'

A state of emergency has been in place in parts of Kingston since Friday, when several police stations were attacked.

Mr Coke, 41, insists he is a legitimate businessman and enjoys the support of many impoverished Kingston residents who see him as a benefactor.

The US justice department accuses him of being one of the world's most dangerous drug barons.

Jamaica's Minister of Education, Andrew Holness, told BBC World Service the government had the situation under control.

"The government is always in control, we've never lost control," he said.

The security forces were acting according to the law, he insisted, adding: "This government is one that is big on protecting human rights."

The violence has not touched tourist areas along the Caribbean island's north shore, located more than 100 miles (160km) from Kingston, or Montego Bay airport, the Associated Press reports.

But several hotels reported cancellations.

"I'm very concerned," said Wayne Cummings, president of Jamaica's Hotel and Tourist Association.

"The entire Caribbean and the world is trying to pull itself out of a recession. This kind of hit, if one can call it that, comes at a very, very bad time."

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Profile: Christopher 'Dudus' Coke

Monday, 24 May 2010 14:28 UK

Mr Coke is the alleged leader of the infamous Shower Posse

To his supporters, Jamaican Christopher Coke is a public-spirited businessman. But many officials describe him as a drug lord whose activities span the Caribbean, North America and the UK.

The US justice department has him on its "world's most dangerous" list. Jamaica's former National Security Minister, Peter Philips, recently described him as probably the most powerful man in Jamaica.

The US sought his extradition last August to New York, where he is accused of organising deals in Marijuana and crack cocaine and funnelling the profits and weapons back to Jamaica.

Mr Coke, 41, would face life in prison if found guilty.

The request has greatly strained US-Jamaican relations.

The US authorities have been frustrated at the apparent foot-dragging by Jamaica's government.

The extradition of Mr Coke threatens to further destabilise a country already rife with drugs-related violence.

Jamaican police believe Mr Coke's alleged gang, the Shower Posse, has amassed a vast arsenal in his Kingston home turf, the tough district of Tivoli Gardens.

Bloody history

Tivoli Gardens, in the west of the city, has been represented since 2005 by Prime Minister Bruce Golding. It is also a traditional stronghold of the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

In an interview, Tom Tavares-Finson - his lawyer until recently, and a senator - said his client was a legitimate businessman, not a hardened gang leader.

Speaking to the Jamaica Observer in December, Mr Tavares-Finson said: "Nobody has heard of him being involved in any criminal activity."

He described Mr Coke as "just an ordinary Jamaican going about his everyday business… trying to improve the lot of his children, his family and his community, with a recognition that he has an influence, and he takes his influence very seriously, and that influence is what is propelling the transformation of western Kingston."

Mr Tavares-Finson said people were turning his client into "a mythical character". He added: "That is not his doing. Left to his own devices, he would not be on the front page of any newspaper."

According to Jamaican media, Mr Coke is more like a "godfather" to Kingston residents - a benefactor providing the means for food and schooling.

Loyal residents have been taking to the streets in their hundreds to voice their support for the man they call the "president", "general",
"shortman", or most commonly "Dudus".

"Jesus died for us so we will die for Dudus," read one placard.

The Shower Posse

Mr Coke's life has been racked by violence. Two of his brothers and a sister have been shot dead.

His father, Lester Coke, was a leader of the Shower Posse. He died in 1992 in a mysterious fire in his prison cell, while awaiting extradition to the US on drugs and murder charges.

The group is blamed for more than 1,000 murders in Jamaica and America during the 1980s.

It derives its name from "showering" communities with bullets, according to Michael Chettleburgh, a Toronto crime consultant.

"Don't let the name mislead you. This is not a gang that is based out of Jamaica. The Jamaican Shower Posse is everywhere. There is no head office for this gang," Mr Chettleburgh told Canadian media recently.

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