Gunmen battle cops for control of the streets
A dumb-founded Jamaican nation remained transfixed to radio and television sets yesterday as marauding gunmen openly challenged security forces for control of the streets of downtown Kingston.
With the tension still running high at nightfall, police counted two of their numbers shot and one civilian dead, casualties of the gunmen's determined stance against the capture of Tivoli Gardens strongman Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.
In an advisory, the Kingston Public Hospital said it would only be taking emergency cases after gunshots rang out in the vicinity.
There were signs that Coke was digging in, with supporters extending and expanding the barricades erected in West Kingston since Monday night when Prime Minister Bruce Golding announced that extradition proceedings against him could begin.
The heavily armed gunmen appeared to be on the offensive, torching one police station and keeping lawmen pinned down throughout the day at three others.
In a clear signal they wanted to minimise potential casualties, police invited law-abiding residents of Tivoli Gardens and adjoining Denham Town to leave the communities via Industrial Terrace. But buses provided by the security forces to take the residents to an unnamed location, remained empty. It was not immediately certain if the residents were staying of their own accord or if they were being coerced to stay.
Rumours multiplied throughout the day that the violence would spread beyond West Kingston, causing many citizens to leave downtown Kingston or avoid it altogether.
In one incident late evening, police quickly crushed an attempt to mount a roadblock along Red Hills Road, northwest of the capital, exchanging gunfire with men who quickly fled.
"We tried to clear the roadblock and they fired on us but we have managed to clear the area and calm has returned," said head of crime for the St Andrew North Police Division, Deputy Superintendent Altermoth 'Parra' Campbell..
Earlier in the day, Observer news teams met upon roadblock after roadblock in downtown sections of the capital city and heard gunshots in the distance. But it was unclear who were firing. Roadblocks turned up as far as Heroes Circle near Fletcher's Land near Manchester Square.
"Reports so far are that one civilian was shot and killed and two police officers injured," cops later told the Observer. "At this time, the reports are that at least four police stations have come under attack from gunmen," the police said.
A station in Hannah Town was torched while the Darling Street, Fletcher's Land and Denham Town police stations came under heavy gunfire.
But police could not confirm reports that a police vehicle was also stolen by the gunmen and also that electricity in sections of West Kingston was turned off.
The cops were said to have been forced to beat a hasty retreat when gunmen stole the vehicle with a police radio inside it at Slipe Pen Road in the vicinity of the Blood Bank. The gunmen reportedly sprayed the vehicle with high-powered assault rifles and drove away the car when the occupants fled.
"The man them out on the road crazy, we have to be watching. The situation has reached a serious state," said one man who spoke for a group of frightened looking residents.
Meanwhile the Police Federation blasted the criminal activities as an attack against the State.
"The mettle and resilience of our police officers are being tested by resourceful criminal elements who have declared war on our security forces," said Sergeant Raymond Wilson, chairman of the Police Federation.
"We are asking our members to take all necessary precautions in the face of blatant threats against their lives and their environs," Wilson urged.
"Whilst we have sworn to protect every member of the Jamaican society we must ensure self-preservation, as this is the only way we will be able to execute our duties timely and professionally. I am pleading with every responsible law-abiding Jamaican to support us; this fight is for all of us," said Wilson.