Violent clashes between heavily armed supporters of an alleged drug lord/gang leader and police forces has left 60 people dead in two parishes of Kingston, Jamaica.
The capitol is under a state of emergency after rumors spread last week that the government signed an extradition request from the US for drug lord Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, 41.
Coke, who is still at large, is wanted by the US for a multitude of cocaine trafficking and gun running charges. He is alleged to be the leader of a powerful politically-affiliated gang in Kingston. It is those gang members who are risking their lives to prevent his extradition to the US.
Gang members have used tree branches, old cars and refrigerators as barricades to seal off Mr Coke’s hideout in Tivoli Gardens, where he has developed a loyal following among slum-dwellers by offering money, jobs, education and security [link].
Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding signed the extradition papers for Coke last week after US authorities badgered him and accused him of benefiting financially from Coke's criminal enterprises. Mr. Golding had blocked the extradition request for months before reversing his decision.
Golding reacted angrily to ABC news reports that he was somehow affiliated with Coke's gang.
“Prime Minister Bruce Golding has categorically denied and dismissed as extremely offensive, reports on the US-ABC network which describe him as ‘a known criminal affiliate of hunted drug lord’, Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke,” his official statement said [link].
Meanwhile, life goes on in Kingston amid the urban warfare.
My oldest sister and her husband -- both born and raised in Jamaica - visited with us over the weekend. They flew back to Jamaica on Sunday. They were able to get to their jobs in downtown Kingston on Monday and Tuesday by driving the long way around the civil unrest.
They dismissed reports that Kingston was entirely under siege, although they can hear sporadic gunfire off in the distance.