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Jamaican slum vows to protect man sought by U.S. on arms, drug charges

KINGSTON, Jamaica — In a gritty slum, they are preparing for war. They are building barricades of junked cars and sandbags, making Molotov cocktails and pitching barbed wire over power lines.

They are waiting for the police, who they believe will come for Christopher "Dudus" Coke, a 5-foot-4-inch neighborhood boss that the U.S. Justice Department calls one of the world's most dangerous drug lords.

Kingston has been jittery since Prime Minister Bruce Golding last week reversed his long-standing refusal to extradite Coke to the United States on drugs and arms trafficking charges.

Coke's headquarters, on the west side of the city, is the Tivoli Gardens housing project. Hundreds of residents, many dressed in white, marched peacefully outside a police station Thursday with signs reading: "No Dudus, No Jamaica!"

A sign affixed to a scruffy dog's back read: "Jesus died for us, we will die for Dudus."

Authorities insist they won't be swayed.

"We have and will be executing the warrant" for Coke's arrest, Deputy Police Commissioner Glenmore Hinds, the officer in charge of operations, told the Jamaica Observer newspaper.

Golding had stalled the request for Coke's extradition for nine months with claims that the United States' indictment of the reputed drug trafficker relied on illegal wiretap evidence. The prime minister changed his mind amid growing public discontent, persistent questions about his ties to Coke, and a backlash against his use of a U.S. lobbying firm in Washington to urge authorities to drop the extradition request.

Golding's fight against the extradition strained relations with the United States, which questioned the Caribbean country's reliability as an ally in the fight against drugs. Locally, critics have asked for Golding's resignation, although his Jamaica Labor Party has continued to back him.

Coke allegedly leads one of Jamaica's gangs, which control politicized slums known as "garrisons." Political parties created the gangs in the 1970s to rustle up votes. The gangs have since turned to drug trafficking, but each gang remains closely tied to a political party. Coke's gang is tied to Labor.

Coke faces life in prison if convicted on charges filed against him in New York.

Police say Tivoli Gardens residents have stockpiled powerful weapons, including a .50-caliber sniper rifle with armor-piercing bullets. Others allegedly have stolen law-abiding residents' cell phones to prevent them from alerting authorities to Coke's movements.

Golding appealed to his Tivoli Gardens constituents to cooperate with authorities, saying he was assured that police would take care to "prevent any recurrence of the terrible atrocities that occurred in 2001" when a similar standoff between security forces and gunmen killed 25 civilians as well as a soldier and a constable.

Jamaican slum vows to protect man sought by U.S. on arms, drug charges 05/22/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 22, 2010 9:13pm]
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