State of Emergency as Unrest Increases in Jamaica

Two police officers have been killed and six others wounded in unrest in Jamaica’s capital Kingston, police said. They had been responding to a call for help from a female motorist on Sunday night when they were shot.

Police said two of their colleagues were targeted by a gunmen as as they responded to a call at 2330 from a female motorist who said she had been shot at in eastern Kingston. All were taken to hospital, where two later died and four remain in a stable condition. There were unconfirmed reports that a civilian had also been killed.

Tensions remained high on Monday, with both heavily-armed police and armed supporters patrolling the area. The BBC’s Matthew Price says the streets are currently very quiet, but burnt out cars can be seen – and sounds of gunfire can be heard intermittently. Although much of the city and the country is still safe, in those pockets where it is not there is a big fear of unrest spreading, he adds.

A state of emergency has been declared in parts of Kingston. Two police stations were evacuated after being hit with Molotov cocktails, while the status of a third was unclear. Gang members blocked off a miles-long area of Jamaica’s capital city – mostly in West Kingston – using vehicles, sandbags, barbed wire and anything else they could find.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding has denounced the unrest as a “calculated assault on the authority of the state that cannot be tolerated.” He said security forces would be “moving swiftly to bring the current situation under control… Criminal elements bent on violence and mayhem will be detained,” he said in a televised address. (BBC) Mr. Golding also said that “we must confront this criminal element with determination and unqualified resolve.” (Reuters)

The unrest has centered on the Tivoli Gardens area of West Kingston – represented by Mr. Golding in parliament – and St. Andrew districts. Supporters of alleged local drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke have taken to the streets in protest at attempts to extradite him to the U.S. Mr. Coke, 41, says he is a community leader. Mr. Coke’s supporters see him as a man who is fulfilling a role that the government does not, such as giving them money to support their children. Because of that he has a huge amount of support in the area.

But the U.S. Justice Department says Mr. Coke is one of the world’s most dangerous drug barons. He is accused of leading a gang called the Shower Posse – owing to the volume of bullets used in shootings – and operating an international smuggling network.

“At Coke’s direction and under his protection, members of his criminal organization sell marijuana and crack cocaine in the New York area and elsewhere, and send the narcotics proceeds back to Coke and his co-conspirators,” the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency said in a release accompanying the charges. “Coke and his co-conspirators also arm their organization with illegally trafficked firearms,” the DEA added. (CNN)

Coke is on the Justice Department’s list of Consolidated Priority Organization Targets, which the department says “includes the world’s most dangerous narcotics kingpins.” (CNN) He faces a life sentence if convicted on charges filed against him in New York. The gang has also been blamed for numerous murders in Jamaica and the U.S.

The trouble started last week when Prime Minister Golding said that he was prepared to send Mr. Coke to the U.S. on drugs and weapons trafficking charges. The decision reversed nine months of opposition to his extradition. Mr. Golding has argued that the evidence against Mr. Coke was obtained illegally by intercepting mobile telephone calls. But he changed his mind in the face of growing public discontent, and questions about his possible ties to Mr. Coke. On Friday, Mr. Golding said citizens should “allow the courts to deal with the extradition matter,” the state-run Jamaica Information Service said.

The State Department issued a travel alert for Jamaica on Friday, saying that the “possibility exists for violence and/or civil unrest in the greater Kingston metropolitan area. If the situation ignites, there is a possibility of severe disruptions of movement within Kingston, including blocking of access roads to the Norman Manley International Airport.” (CNN)

In Mr. Golding’s nationwide address Sunday, he said the state of emergency would remain in effect for a month and would demonstrate that Jamaica is “a land of peace, order and security” where gang-related violence will not be tolerated. “This will be a turning point for us as a nation to confront the powers of evil that has penalized the society and earned us the unenviable label as one of the murder capitals of the world,” Golding said. (Reuters)

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