Jamaica Declares Emergency Amid Unrest
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SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, Mexico -- The Jamaican government declared a state of emergency in portions of Kingston, the capital, on Sunday after supporters of a gang leader who is wanted in the United States on gun and drug charges attacked three police stations in an attempt to pressure the government to let him remain free, officials said.
In the western Kingston neighborhood where the gang leader, Christopher Coke, is holed up, residents set up barricades and exchanged gunfire with the police. The Daily Gleaner reported that gunmen allied with Mr. Coke, who is commonly known as Dudus, were roaming the streets with high-powered rifles.
Amid growing unrest, the government met in an emergency session to try to keep the lawlessness from spinning out of control. The authorities, who said other gangs appeared to be coming to Mr. Coke's aid, called on him to turn himself in for a hearing on extradition to the United States.
"The police are publicly calling on Christopher Coke, otherwise called 'Dudus,' 'Short Man' and 'President,' to hand himself over," a police statement said. "The security forces wish to make it very clear that they view the barricading as an act of cowardice on the part of selfish criminal elements, mainly Mr. Coke."
Mr. Coke is accused by federal prosecutors in the United States of running a major cocaine and marijuana trafficking operation from Tivoli Gardens, the neighborhood in Kingston that he controls. The State Department sought his extradition last August to New York, where he is accused in United States District Court of trafficking drugs and using the proceeds to buy guns in the United States and send them back to his allies in Jamaica.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who represents Tivoli Gardens in the Jamaican Parliament, initially balked at sending him to the United States. He argued that results of the wiretapping conducted by Jamaican law enforcement officials that led to Mr. Coke's indictment were illegally obtained by American prosecutors.
After protests from the Obama administration and from opposition politicians, Mr. Golding agreed to comply with the extradition request. It was then that Mr. Coke's neighbors in Tivoli Gardens, who say he keeps the peace in the neighborhood, began striking out at the government.
American prosecutors say that Mr. Coke is the leader of the Shower Posse, a drug gang that his father, Lester Coke, used to lead. The gang is accused of hundreds of drug-related killings in the United States in the 1980s. Federal officials sought to extradite Lester Coke to face narcotics and murder charges, but he died in a mysterious fire in his prison cell in 1992 before he could be turned over to the United States.
"It's kind of like déjà vu," said Curtis Scoon, a movie producer working on a film about the Shower Posse. "His father was in the same situation."
Both of Jamaica's major political parties have fostered ties with neighborhood gangs, which turn out the vote in exchange for political favors.
Christopher Coke, who runs a consulting firm that receives sizable contracts from the government, is linked to the Jamaican Labor Party led by Mr. Golding. Until recently, Mr. Coke was represented by a prominent senator chosen by the ruling party, Tom Tavares-Finson, a criminal defense lawyer. In an interview, he had described his client as a legitimate businessman, not the monstrous criminal described by American prosecutors.
First Published May 24, 2010 2:01 am