44 Dead in Jamaican Gunbattles


A senior Jamaican official says at least 44 civilians have died in clashes between police and supporters of an alleged drug lord wanted by the United States.

Jamaica’s Ombudsman Herro Blair said Wednesday the death toll rose in West Kingston, where officers and soldiers continue to battle defenders of Christopher “Dudus” Coke for the fourth day.

The outbreak of violence was triggered as the Jamaican government moved to extradite Coke to the United States.

The alleged leader of the “Shower Posse,” named for the practice of showering rivals with bullets during the cocaine wars of the 1980s, has not been found.

The unrest has forced the closure of schools and businesses across the capital, and a state of emergency remains in effect for parts of Kingston.

The United States issued a travel alert to warn citizens against visiting the island nation.

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding told parliament Tuesday the government deeply regrets the loss of lives, especially those of members of the security forces and innocent, law-abiding citizens caught in the crossfire. He promised “strong and decisive” action to restore order in the country.

Coke is wanted by the United States for alleged cocaine and arms trafficking. U.S. officials sent an extradition request for Coke to the Jamaican government nine months ago, but Prime Minister Golding had refused to allow it to be processed, arguing that the evidence in it had been obtained illegally.

Mr. Golding responded to criticism last week, and said Coke should be arrested and brought to court for a hearing.

The secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, said he fully supports the efforts of the Jamaican government and its security forces to reassert the authority of the state over the criminal elements in western Kingston.

Coke controls the Tivoli Gardens slum, a key constituency of the ruling Jamaica Labor Party, or JLP.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.