KINGSTON (Reuters) - Police clashed with gunmen in a Kingston slum for the second straight day on Monday, after at least three people were killed in violence linked to an alleged Jamaican drug lord who faces extradition to the United States.
The firefights came a day after the government declared a state of emergency in volatile sections of the capital as Prime Minister Bruce Golding vowed “strong and decisive action” to restore order.
The limited emergency in Jamaica, a popular Caribbean tourism destination, covered districts where gunmen shot up or set fire to five police stations on Sunday.
Officials said at least two policemen and one civilian were killed and seven police officers wounded in the attacks, which were accompanied by reports of looting and carjackings.
The assailants are suspected allies of Christopher “Dudus” Coke and the government has called on him to surrender to face a U.S. judicial request seeking his extradition on cocaine trafficking and gun-running charges.
U.S. prosecutors have described Coke as the leader of the “Shower Posse,” which murdered hundreds of people by showering them with bullets during the cocaine wars of the 1980s.
Helmeted police in flak jackets and brandishing automatic assault rifles tried unsuccessfully to storm past makeshift barricades and infiltrate the poor Tivoli Gardens area of West Kingston where Coke was believed to be hiding.
They were forced to retreat after masked gunmen opened fire on them from high-rise buildings overlooking the barricades, which closed off seven main streets leading into the area.
“The police is appealing to residents of Tivoli Gardens to desist from blocking the entrance to the community,” police force spokesman Karl Angell said in a statement. “We are also appealing to the decent citizens of Tivoli Gardens who wish to leave to contact the police.”
The normally bustling streets were mostly deserted, as the country marked its Labor Day national holiday and motorists and passersby steered clear of the trouble spot.
The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert warning of violence in Kingston before the weekend, as tensions rose after Golding said he was starting proceedings to extradite Coke.
Golding said on Sunday 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,” he said.
The United States requested Coke’s extradition in August last year but Jamaica initially refused, alleging that evidence against Coke had been gathered through illegal wiretaps.
In its annual narcotics control strategy report in March, the State Department said Coke’s well-known ties to Jamaica’s ruling party highlighted “the potential depth of corruption in the government.”
Officials said the violence has had no impact so far on the island’s bauxite, sugar and banana producing sectors.
Editing by Tom Brown and Chris Wilson