Alex Eichler at The Atlantic:
Kingston, Jamaica exploded in violence this week as local police and Jamaican soldiers tried to locate and apprehend Christopher Coke, an alleged drug lord wanted for trial in the United States. Coke, whom the U.S. considers one of the world’s most dangerous drug traffickers, is thought to be walled up in a housing complex in West Kingston. More than 1,000 soldiers and police officers have been deployed to the area in recent days, but Coke’s gunmen have returned fire, killing at least three. Violence has spread to other parts of the city, more than two dozen civilians have died, and the government has declared a state of emergency in Kingston. Meanwhile, the bloodshed has occasioned a number of observations about the role of the drug trade in Jamaican society.
Robert Mackey at NYT:
Before she left for work on Tuesday, Laura Redpath, a reporter for The Jamaica Gleaner, a Kingston newspaper, gave this summary of the latest reports from Television Jamaica on her Twitter feed:
Weapons have been confiscated and security personnel are going door-to-door to “flush out the gunmen”: TVJ
5 persons shot in ‘Monkey Town’ in Spanish Town #Jamaica: TVJ
Another Twitter user aggregating news reports is Chris Mills, the chief executive of Chrysalis Communications, a new media firm based in Jamaica. On his feed, Mr. Mills noted two hours ago that a local television journalist said some of those killed had been taken to a hospital in the capital:
Reporter on @CVMTV reports seeing a truck with human bodies parked outside/near the Kingston Public Hospital, Downtown Kingston
Within the past hour Mr. Mills posted a link to a graphic image uploaded to TwitPic this morning, which is said to show the bodies of three people killed in the violence.
As Janine Mendes-Franco of Global Voices Online pointed out in a post on Jamaican bloggers on Monday, Annie Paul, a Jamaican writer and critic, is also using her Twitter feed to aggregate reports and comment on the siege, although she is following events from outside the country while attending a conference in Barbados. On Monday, among snatches of information derived from online news sources, she posted this observation on what the chaos in the prime minister’s district of west Kingston means:
The pact between the criminals and the state has been broken, we are being shown the consequences of that rupture…
My colleague Marc Lacey explains that the criminal gangs are so powerful that “Jamaican politicians, no matter their party, know that their political survival often depends on the men Jamaicans call ‘dons,’ inner-city emperors who hold enormous sway over their communities and pull in huge sums from both legitimate and illegitimate means.”
Steven Taylor at PoliBlog:
First off, this is from the “You Can’t Make this Stuff Up” File: a drug boss named Christopher Coke.
Second, the above would be more amusing if the current situation wasn’t so violent:
As hundreds of troops and police officers close in on alleged drug lord Christopher Coke, explosions and steady gun fire can be heard throughout the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica. Plumes of smoke are rising from the barricaded community and journalists are hearing reports of as many as 15 dead, but caution that at this time they are unable to confirm that tally.
As many as 700 troops from the Jamaica Defence Force have been deployed in West Kingston, with 200 or more at the barricaded community, and according to authorities as many as 1000 police officers are also mobilized.
The goal of the operation is Coke’s arrest so that he can be extradited to the United States. He has vowed that he will not surrender.
The risk of such mayhem is precisely why the prime minister had stalled on Mr Coke’s case, ever since the United States filed its extradition request last August. He only acted after being caught in a flip-flop over the hiring of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, an American law firm, in the case. Mr Golding initially denied retaining the firm and subsequently admitted doing so, albeit using funds from his political party rather than the taxpayer. Facing calls to resign, he announced the government would comply with the order. Mr Coke laid low at first. But seemingly with an eye to the history books, he went for broke on Sunday: Labour Day commemorates the start of strikes and unrest in 1938, which left 46 dead and 429 injured.
The standoff could be resolved peacefully, as some reports claim Mr Coke’s lawyers are talking to American officials. He might feel safer in American hands than in the local prison where his father, from whom he is believed to have inherited control of the Shower Posse gang, burnt to death in 1992 while awaiting his own extradition. If he doesn’t surrender, however, more bloodshed is likely to ensue. Mr Coke could escalate the conflict by calling on armed backers elsewhere in the country, like the Stone Crusher gang in Montego Bay, a tourist haven, to stage further attacks.
The only other way for Mr Golding to restore calm without Mr Coke’s consent is legal acrobatics. The courts will hear a challenge to the extradition will be heard on May 31st. Before acceding to the request, the prime minister had contended that the wiretapping evidence on which it was based was illegal. Peter Phillips, a leading opposition member, said last Thursday that Mr Golding’s about-face could “by chance or design” undermine the legal case for sending Mr Coke to America—thus letting the prime minister off the hook.
Jane Engle at The LA Times:
The U.S. State Department is warning Americans against travel to Kingston, Jamaica, and surrounding areas “because of escalating violence, shootings and unrest” related to attempts to arrest Christopher “Dudus” Coke, an alleged trafficker of drugs and weapons.
On Tuesday, thousands of police and soldiers in the capital clashed with Coke’s defenders, and at least 30 people were reported killed, according to the Associated Press.
The State Department’s travel alert, issued Monday as an update to its May 21 alert, states that access to Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport (KIN) “has been blocked on an intermittent basis by gun battles between criminal elements and police” and that some flights have been canceled.
UPDATE: Bob Mackey at NYT
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