Jamaica clashes claimed more than 70 lives

The BBC's Steve Kingstone is taken into Tivoli Gardens by the Jamaican military.

Jamaican police say at least 73 people are now known to have been killed in four days of clashes as police hunted for an alleged drug lord in Kingston.

Most of the dead were young men, some suspected of being armed, while at least three police and soldiers also died, officials said.

It is not clear if Christopher "Dudus" Coke, who is wanted by the US, is still in Jamaica.

The search centred on Mr Coke's Tivoli Gardens stronghold.

Police said they had recovered more than 70 bodies and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Information minister Daryl Vaz said the authorities were trying to identify the dead.

Glenmore Hinds, deputy commissioner of police, suggested some of the dead had been armed.

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" areas - 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

More than 500 people have been arrested over four days, mostly in Tivoli Gardens where some people loyal to Mr Coke had pledged to support him at any cost.

Reports suggest the violence has not ended - sporadic gunfire was heard in the nearby area of Denham Town.

Jaslin Salmon, the director of Jamaica's Red Cross, said he was trying to gain entry to the neighbourhood.

"We know there are people with urgent needs there," he said.

"We've also been told there are bodies in there."

Residents in affected areas have accused security forces of being heavy-handed.

"What we need is money and food," a woman called Marlene told Associated Press news agency.

"Coke, he take care the community. Not the soldiers, they just shoot."

Prime Minister Bruce Golding said earlier that he regretted the loss of life in the recent violence, and promised an independent evaluation.

The violence was sparked by a decision by Mr Golding to extradite Mr Coke to the US on drugs and weapons trafficking charges - for which he could receive a life sentence.

It reversed nine months of opposition to his extradition, with Mr Golding arguing 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.

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

Map showing parts of Kingston, Jamaica

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JAMAICA VIOLENCE

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