Jamaica declares state of emergency
Kingston - Jamaica's prime minister vowed tough action against a frenzy of gang violence in Kingston, imposing a state of emergency to curb armed supporters of an alleged drug lord sought by the United States.
Premier Bruce Golding said that criminals would "not be allowed to triumph", as gang members rampaged through the capital, clashing with police and burning a police station to the ground, leaving at least one person dead.
Gunmen from various communities across the Caribbean nation of 2.8 million had joined with criminal elements, police said, in a bid to protect reputed gang leader Christopher "Dudus" Coke, who faces a US extradition request.
"The criminal element who have placed the society under siege will not be allowed to triumph," Golding said late on Sunday in an address to the nation.
He described the situation as "a calculated assault on the authority of the state that cannot be tolerated, and will not be allowed to continue".
Golding said the state of emergency in Kingston "will be a turning point for us as a nation to confront the powers of evil that have penalised the society and earned us the unenviable label as one of the murder capitals of the world".
"We must confront this criminal element with determination and unqualified resolve," he said.
Two police officers and a civilian were wounded by gunfire in street clashes and four police stations came under attack, police said. One police station was set ablaze after police abandoned it, having run out of bullets, they added.
People were urged to move out of the roughest neighbourhoods and sections of Kingston came under siege as armed men roamed the city, taking on policemen who attempted to clear roadblocks that were popping up at various points.
At least one man has been reported dead after he was shot in a van in front of one of the police stations, Fletcher's Land, which came under sustained gunfire.
A police officer was also shot in the hand while a patrol car, which was fired on to force its occupants to run for cover, was stolen.
Police said gangs had stockpiled a large cache of weapons, including large-gauge rifles, all apparently to protect Coke and stop his extradition on drug and gun trafficking charges that could put him away for life.
Coke, 42, is the reputed leader of the Shower Posse gang with branches all over the United States. He also heads the Tivoli Gardens community, which Golding represents in the Jamaican parliament.
The United States accuses Shower Posse members, under Coke's direction, of having sold marijuana and crack cocaine in New York City and other areas of the United States, funnelling profits back to him.
Amid the fury of Coke's supporters, the state of emergency was slapped on Kingston and St Andrew after Golding held an emergency meeting of his cabinet earlier on Sunday and will last for at least a month.
"The threats that have emerged to the safety and security of our people will be repelled with strong and decisive action," Golding promised in his address.
"Tonight, I appeal to all law-abiding citizens to remain calm and support these necessary measures," he said.
Though Golding signed the extradition request for Coke, reversing an earlier decision, the petition is pending a final court verdict before which Coke is required to attend a hearing.
For local Kingston residents, Coke is more like a godfather.
Thousands marched through the city on Thursday chanting: "Leave Dudus alone, leave Dudus alone."
"He is next to God," one demonstrator said. "Just like how Jesus died on the cross for us, we are willing to die for Dudus," said another.
The US State Department on Friday issued a travel warning urging US citizens to weigh the risks of travelling to and within the Kingston metropolitan area.
"The possibility exists for violence and/or civil unrest in the greater Kingston metropolitan area," the department said.