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Jamaica in crisis

marciadottin, [email protected]

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Masked men torched a police station and traded gunfire with security forces in a barricaded slum in Jamaica’s capital of Kingston yesterday, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency.Sporadic gunshots rang out in gritty West Kingston where defiant supporters of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, the Jamaican “don” widely suspectedof controlling gunmen in the Tivoli Gardens neighbourhood, have transformed the area into a virtual fortress cut off by trashed cars and barbed wire.In barricaded Hannah Town, closeto Tivoli Gardens, black smoke spiralled into the sky from a police station set aflame by molotov cocktails.Officers fled the burning station, where a 2001 stand-off between gunmen and security forces killed 25 civilians, as well as a soldier and a constableJamaican media have reported just two wounded so far: a police officer anda civilian, both hit by gunfire. According to Go Jamaica, the civilian was parked in a car when he was ordered out of it and shot repeatedly. He was rushed to the Kingston Public Hospital where he was in critical condition last night.Yesterday’s violence erupted following a week of ever higher tensions in the capital over the possible extradition of Coke to the United States on drugand arms trafficking charges.After Prime Minister Bruce Golding reversed his long-standing refusal to extradite Coke, the alleged kingpin’s supporters began barricading the streets and preparing for a fight.In a statement issued by the Jamaica Information Service yesterday afternoon, Golding said that based on an update and advice from the security forces, he summoned an emergency meeting of the Cabinet at 2 p.m yesterday to consider the advice. “The cabinet took the decisionto advise the governor general to issue a proclamation pursuant to Section 26 of the constitution, declaring that a state of public emergency exists in the parishes of Kingston and St Andrew.“The proclamation shall remainin force for a period of one monthunless extended by the Houseof Representatives or revoked earlier,” he stated.Meanwhile, men with high-powered rifles have been manning road blocks on Spanish Town Road. Residents from neighbouring communities Rema and Trench Town were tentatively watching the events unfold in what was still a very tense environment.Coke is described as one of the world’s most dangerous drug lords by the United States Justice Department. He has ties of loyalty to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party and holds significant sway over he West Kingston area represented in Parliament by Golding, who stalled Coke’s extradition request for months with claims that the United States indictment relied on illegal wiretap evidence. Coke faces life in prison if convicted on charges filed against himin New York. The last time a state of emergencyin Jamaica was during Hurricane Dean in 2007. (AP/Go Jamaica)