Jamaican authorities are claiming victory after a four-day street battle between security forces and masked gunman protecting alleged drug and gun runner Christopher "Dudus" Coke. As many as 60 people died in the shooting — most of them young men under the age of 30. But Coke remained at large even as life in the Caribbean nation's capital began returning to normal. What's happening in Jamaica? (Watch a BBC report about the ongoing Jamaican drug war)
What started this street battle?
Police attempted to enter the Tivoli Gardens district of Kingston on May 17 to arrest Christopher "Dudus" Coke, who is wanted in the United States on drug and arms trafficking charges. Supporters of Coke opened fire, starting the first of several gun battles, and sealed off Coke's turf with booby-trapped barricades. The most recent fighting lasted four days, leaving scores of gangsters and civilians dead, along with at least four policemen and soldiers.
Who is Christopher "Dudus" Coke?
According to the U.S. Justice Department, he's "one of the world's most dangerous drug barons." Coke, 41, is suspected of running a drug ring supplying marijuana and crack cocaine to the Caribbean, North America, and the U.K. His gang is known as the Shower Posse because its members are known for using lots of bullets during shootings. The gang has been linked to more than 1,400 murders since the 1980s.
Why does he have so many supporters willing to defend him?
Coke is seen by many in Kingston's suburbs as a "Robin Hood figure," says the BBC's Matthew Price. He has provided food and aid to send children in Kingston slums to school. Many people in these poor neighborhoods refer to him as "president," and "general," and say they would happily lay down their lives for him.
Why didn't authorities try to arrest Coke earlier?
The U.S. has sought Coke's arrest for nine months, but Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding refused to extradite him until this month. Golding said the evidence against Coke was flawed, but others point out that Coke's stronghold is in Golding's political constituency — and that the drug dealer often trades political favors for the promise of his community's votes. ABC News has reported that Golding and his party are in Coke's pocket, a charge which the prime minister has denied.
How wide was the violence?
Police sealed off a square mile area in Tivoli Gardens, but fighting spread to nearby Trenchtown, a district better known as the birthplace of reggae singer Bob Marley. Coronation Market, a public square frequented by tourists, has also come under attack. Many locals have fled Kingston until the violence dies down, according to CNN.
Is this kind of street violence normal in Jamaica?
The Caribbean island has one of the highest murder tolls in the world — an annual rate of 1,500 in a population of 3 million — but this level of street war is unprecedented. Police hauled in as many as 500 people in sweeps of Coke's stronghold, according to some reports, and more than 60 people were killed and hundreds injured in the fighting.
Is it safe to travel to Jamaica?
The U.S. State Department has warned against travel to Kingston and surrounding areas, but tourist resorts remain open in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Negril, Port Antonio, and other parts of the island. American Airlines has temporarily canceled all flights in and out of Kingston.
Sources: Times Online (2), The Guardian, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, CNN (2), ABC News, BBC, Jamaica Observer