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At least 26 dead in battle over drug lord in Jamaican slum

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 dudus coke apAt least 26 civilians are confirmed dead in Jamaica in fierce fighting between government forces and gunmen loyal to a wanted drug lord. News reports say that violence in the Tivoli Gardens slum of Kingston, Jamaica's capital, continued Tuesday as police and soldiers raided the compound where Christopher "Dudus" Coke, pictured left, is believed to be holed up.

The conflict began after Prime Minister Bruce Golding reversed his nine-month refusal to extradite Coke to the U.S. on drugs and weapons charges. Golding is the parliament representative of the West Kingston area that Coke is said to control.

In Jamaica, the political system is deeply intertwined with networks of powerful gangs that control slums and deliver votes to parties. Coke's gang, known as the Shower Posse and based in Tivoli Gardens, is tied to the ruling Labor Party. The drug lord has been described as a Robin Hood-like figure to his supporters.

Golding had argued the the U.S. indictment against Coke is based on illegal wiretapping, but after mounting public pressure, the prime minister reversed course and ordered Coke arrested on May 17. That's when, reports say, people in Tivoli Gardens began setting up barricades. Unrest began Sunday and erupted Monday as government forces moved in on Coke's stronghold.

The violence has forced schools and businesses to shut down, the U.S. Embassy to close, and the government to declare a state of emergency in parts of the city. Shootouts have also been reported elsewhere in the city's tougher neighborhoods, but so far the violence has not invaded Jamaica's well-known tourist resorts, the Associated Press reported.

The BBC reports that so far it does not appear that Jamaican security forces have been able to penetrate the "warren-like" slum. The political opposition on the island is now calling on Golding to resign over the outbreak of violence.

Al Jazeera's English-language network recently produced an in-depth video report on the culture of violence of extrajudicial police killings in Jamaica. The local news source Jamaica Observer is updating with developments on the current conflict in Kingston.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Christoper "Dudus" Coke. Credit: Associated Press

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