Loyalists to drug lord take over Jamaican slum
State of emergency is declared in nation’s capital
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 yesterday.
The government declared a state of emergency as sporadic gunshots rang out in West Kingston, stronghold of Christopher “Dudus’’ Coke, a Jamaican “don’’ charged in the United States 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.
A police station in Dehnam Town 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 a police station 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 last 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.
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 US 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 yesterday’s shooting started, police urged the neighborhood boss to surrender, calling the heavy barricades encircling his slum stronghold a sign of “cowardice.’’
The United States, 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 last night, Golding said the order gives authorities the power to restrict movement and effectively battle violent criminals.
Specifics were not disclosed. 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 US 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 US firm to lobby Washington to drop the extradition request, provoked an outcry in Jamaica that threatened his political career.