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Gunfire in barricaded slum prompts state of emergency in Kingston, Jamaica

KINGSTON, Jamaica — Masked men defending a reputed drug lord sought by the United States torched a police station and traded gunfire with security forces in a patchwork of barricaded slums in the capital Sunday.

The government declared a state of emergency — limited to the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew — as sporadic gunshots rang out in gritty West Kingston, stronghold of Christopher "Dudus" Coke, a Jamaican "don" charged in the United States with drug and arms trafficking. His defiant supporters turned his Tivoli Gardens neighborhood and other areas into a virtual fortress with trashed cars and barbed wire.

Four police stations came under heavy fire from gangsters roaming the streets with high-powered guns. In barricaded Hannah Town, close to Tivoli Gardens, black smoke spiraled into the sky from a police station set aflame by Molotov cocktails.

Officers fled the burning station in impoverished West Kingston, where a 2001 standoff between gunmen and security forces killed 25 civilians as well as a soldier and a constable.

Authorities said two security officers had been wounded by Sunday night.

Police said the attacks were unprovoked. It called for all "decent and law-abiding citizens" in the troubled areas to immediately evacuate their homes and said security forces would ferry them out safely.

Police Commissioner Owen Ellington said "scores of criminals" from gangs across the Caribbean island had traveled to West Kingston to join the fight. "It is now clear that criminal elements are determined to launch coordinated attacks on the security forces," he said.

In a gritty section of the capital of an island known more for reggae and all-inclusive resorts, the violence erupted after nearly a week of rising tensions over the possible extradition of Coke.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding had stalled the extradition request for nine months with claims the U.S. indictment relied on illegal wiretap evidence. After Golding reversed himself amid growing public discontent over his opposition, Coke's supporters began barricading streets and preparing for battle.

Coke, 41, who typically avoids the limelight, has remained silent. He faces life in prison if convicted on charges filed against him in New York.

Gunfire in barricaded slum prompts state of emergency in Kingston, Jamaica 05/23/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 24, 2010 1:02am]
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