Latin America & Caribbean

Jamaican PM Golding vows to restore order to Kingston

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding has vowed to restore order after at least 31 deaths during an anti-drug offensive in Kingston.

He said he regretted the loss of life as security forces battled fighters loyal to a suspected drug trafficker sought by the US.

Mr Golding said police would continue searching for illegal guns and crime suspects.

The whereabouts of alleged drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke are unknown.

He has thousands of loyal followers who have promised to protect him at any cost.

Police say they have detained more than 200 people and seized arms and ammunition in an operation involving thousands of police and soldiers, heavily armed and backed by armoured cars and helicopters.

New gun battles raged on Tuesday as police and soldiers searched Kingston's Tivoli Gardens district for Mr Coke.

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

Western countries such as the US and Britain have warned their citizens against travel to Kingston and its surrounding area in the current circumstances.

'Lorries piled with bodies'

Prime Minister Golding, who approved Mr Coke's extradition to the US last week after a delay of nine months, reported to parliament on the crisis.

"The operation being carried out under emergency powers are extraordinary measures but they are an extraordinary response to an extraordinary challenge to the safety and security of our citizens," he said.

He added that the government deeply regretted "the loss of lives of members of the security forces and those of innocent law-abiding citizens who were caught in the cross-fire".

Estimates of the death toll vary from 31 to 60 but almost all of the victims are said to be civilians.

Police Director of Communications Karl Angell told Reuters news agency that 26 civilians had been killed and 25 injured in Tivoli Gardens.

Two other civilians were shot dead by suspected supporters of Mr Coke in Spanish Town, an area 14 miles (22km) west of Kingston, officials said.

At least three members of the security forces have also been killed in the violence which began on Sunday.

Hospital sources told AFP news agency that more than 60 bodies had been unloaded on Tuesday at a morgue in one of the Jamaican capital's main hospitals.

AFP's correspondent was first told of two lorries which had delivered "about 50 bodies" to Kingston Public Hospital, then witnessed a third lorry "piled with corpses riddled with bullet wounds, including a baby".

A nurse counted 12 bodies on the third lorry, the correspondent said.

'Big on human rights'

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

Mr Coke, 41, insists he is a legitimate businessman and enjoys the support of many impoverished Kingston residents who see him as a benefactor.

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

Jamaica's Minister of Education, Andrew Holness, told BBC World Service the government had the situation under control.

"The government is always in control, we've never lost control," he said.

The security forces were acting according to the law, he insisted, adding: "This government is one that is big on protecting human rights."

The violence has not touched tourist areas along the Caribbean island's north shore, located more than 100 miles (160km) from Kingston, or Montego Bay airport, the Associated Press reports.

But several hotels reported cancellations.

"I'm very concerned," said Wayne Cummings, president of Jamaica's Hotel and Tourist Association.

"The entire Caribbean and the world is trying to pull itself out of a recession. This kind of hit, if one can call it that, comes at a very, very bad time."

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