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44 Dead in Jamaican Gunbattles


Sporadic gunfire erupted again in parts of Jamaica's capital, Kingston, Wednesday as police and soldiers continued their efforts to find an alleged drug kingpin whose extradition the United States is seeking.

A Jamaican government official told the Associated Press Wednesday he cannot say whether the wanted man, Christopher "Dudus" Coke, has fled the country. So far, the security operation aimed at finding Coke has left at least 44 people dead, and 500 other people have been taken into custody.

The outbreak of violence was triggered as the Jamaican government moved to extradite Coke. He is the alleged leader of the "Shower Posse," named for the practice of showering rivals with bullets during the cocaine wars of the 1980s.

This unrest has forced the closure of schools and businesses in the capital, and a state of emergency is in effect for parts of the city.

The government says operations are normal at the international airport in Kingston.

The United States issued a travel alert to warn citizens against visiting the island nation.

On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela told reporters the United States is confident that Jamaican officials are addressing the issue in the way they need to.

Earlier, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Washington had no information linking Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding to Coke. Crowley said it is the prime minister who signed the arrest decree and it is under his leadership that the government is aggressively pursuing Coke's arrest.

Coke wields influence in the volatile inner city constituency of Tivoli Gardens that Mr. Golding represents.

Mr. Golding told parliament Tuesday the government deeply regrets the loss of lives, especially those of members of the security forces and innocent, law-abiding citizens caught in the crossfire. He promised "strong and decisive" action to restore order in the country.

Coke is wanted by the United States for alleged cocaine and arms trafficking. U.S. officials sent an extradition request for Coke to the Jamaican government in August, but Prime Minister Golding at the time refused to allow it to be processed, arguing that the evidence in it was obtained illegally.

Mr. Golding responded to criticism last week, and said Coke should be arrested and brought to court for a hearing.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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