Jamaica drug raid toll reaches 27

Christopher "Dudus" Coke (Photo: Jamaica Constabulary Force) Mr Coke is wanted by the US on drugs and gun-running charges

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At least 27 people, almost all civilians, have died in gun battles in Jamaica, police have said, as the hunt continues for a suspected drug lord.

Troops and police had stormed the stronghold of Christopher "Dudus" Coke in the Tivoli Gardens district of the capital Kingston.

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

A decision to extradite Mr Coke, 41, to the US had angered his supporters.

Mr Coke, who insists he is a legitimate businessman, enjoys the support of many impoverished Kingston residents who see him as a benefactor and have vowed to protect him at any cost.

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

Fierce fighting

On Tuesday, the third consecutive day of unrest, thousands of heavily-armed police and soldiers continued their assault into the capital's most violent slums, battling masked gunmen loyal to Mr Coke.

AT THE SCENE

Matthew Price

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.

Dudus 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 Dudus; those loyal to him intent on stopping that at whatever cost.

Gangs from slums just outside the capital also joined the fight, erecting barricades on roadways and shooting at troops, the AP news agency reported.

At least one member of the security forces and 26 civilians were killed in the two-day raid, a police statement said. Another seven officers and 25 civilians were also injured.

A total of 211 others have been detained, including six women, but there was no confirmation that Mr Coke was among them.

Military helicopters hovered as the sound of gunfire could be heard across the city centre, the BBC's Nick Davis says in Kingston.

Soldiers and police have been going house to house looking for Mr Coke, who is wanted in the US on drugs and gun-running charges.

Minister of National Security Dwight Nelson said security forces had nearly retaken areas loyal to Mr Coke.

In recent days, 18 police stations across the capital have been attacked, Mr Nelson said.

Other gunmen were using the security forces' focus on west Kingston to carry out other crimes, he added.

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

The US State Department has issued a travel alert, warning citizens against travel to Kingston and the surrounding areas.

Britain "strongly advised" its nationals to avoid all "non-essential travel" to the Kingston area, and Australia urged its visitors to show a "high degree of caution".

Shower Posse

The Jamaican High Commissioner in London, Anthony Smith Johnson, told the BBC that Jamaica was obliged to respond to the US request to apprehend Mr Coke.

TIVOLI GARDENS

Police patrol in Kingston. Photo: 24 May 2010
  • Located on Jamaica's south-eastern coast, far from tourist hub in north
  • Built in late 1960s on grounds of a cleared dump known as the Dungle or "dung hill"
  • Warren-like public housing project with population of about 25,000
  • One of Jamaica's notorious "garrison" slums - described as "a state within a state"
  • Power base of PM Bruce Golding's West Kingston constituency
  • Invaded in 2001 by security forces in search of illegal weapons; 25 people killed in three-day stand-off
  • Four residents died in a similar operation in 1997

"There is a bilateral treaty between the United States and Jamaica which determines how these matters are dealt with," he said.

Mr Johnson said the violence was limited to one square mile of Kingston.

"It's a small area, and they do have it surrounded, and the rest of the city is going on about its business," he said.

The Jamaican government last week agreed to extradite Mr Coke to the US, reversing months of opposition to the move.

Mr Coke is said to lead a gang called the Shower Posse - owing to the volume of bullets used in shootings - and operate an international smuggling network.

The gang has also been blamed for numerous murders in Jamaica and the US.

Mr Coke faces a life sentence if convicted of the charges filed against him in New York.

The drugs trade is deeply entrenched in Jamaica, an island nation of 2.8 million people with one of the highest murder rates in the world. Some 1,660 homicides were recorded there in 2009, the AP news agency reports.

Map showing parts of Kingston, Jamaica

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Yahoo! UK and Ireland Fears grow for Jamaican civilians - 5 hrs ago
Daily Express Crack king Dudus is our Robin Hood - 9 hrs ago
The Independent Death toll rises as hunt for 'drug don' continues - 9 hrs ago
The Scotsman Jamaican gang leader still free after fighting kills 44 - 10 hrs ago
Reuters UK Gunfire resounds in Jamaica as death toll nears 50 - 11 hrs ago

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