May 25, 2010 in Nation/World

Gunbattles intensify, spread in Jamaica

David Mcfadden Associated Press

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaica’s security forces clashed for a second day with masked gunmen allied with an alleged drug kingpin facing extradition to the U.S. as fighting spread Monday to more volatile slums around the capital.

Police and soldiers came under sustained heavy fire in the West Kingston stronghold of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who has been indicted in the U.S. on drug and arms trafficking charges. Military helicopters with mounted guns buzzed above the impoverished area between plumes of black smoke.

A series of explosions boomed across West Kingston while hundreds of security agents assaulted Coke’s barricaded base of Tivoli Gardens in a coordinated operation against drug gangsters whose arsenals rival police firepower.

Exact details were not known about casualties. Authorities said two officers had been killed and at least six wounded since Sunday, and at least one Jamaican soldier was shot dead during Monday’s fighting at Tivoli Gardens, the Caribbean island’s first housing project.

A woman in the besieged slum told Radio Jamaica that she and her terrified family were hunkered down

in their apartment as a firefight raged outside.

“I really pray that somebody will find the love in their heart and stop this right now. It is just too much, my brother,” the woman told the station, the sound of gunfire popping.

Clashes broke out Sunday, six days after Prime Minister Bruce Golding dropped his opposition to extraditing Coke, who has ties to the governing party. Golding had stalled the case for nine months claiming the U.S. indictment relied on illegal wiretap evidence, but he caved in to a growing public outcry over his stand.

After the reversal, Coke’s supporters began barricading streets.

West Kingston is the epicenter of the violence. Security forces also came under fire Monday in areas outside that patchwork of gritty slums in the capital.

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