Tense Calm In Jamaica

torched roadblock on the streets of west kingtson, jamaica, where four days of violence took 23 lives in mid-July
AP
Tensions were high but the streets of troubled West Kingston were relatively calm Wednesday after four days of shootouts between security forces and gunmen that claimed at least 23 lives.

"There was shooting overnight, but minimal," said Corp. Dorel Jackson of the Constabulary Communications Network at dawn. "There were one or two incidents, but fairly quiet overall."

Jamaican business leaders who toured the streets of Tivoli Gardens and other troubled areas in Kingston's west end on Tuesday were set to meet with Prime Minister P.J. Patterson later Wednesday to discuss ways to end the violence.

Gunbattles flared on Saturday between residents and police in the gang-infested inner city neighborhoods after a police raid to search for illegal weapons. The city of more than 750,000 people is prone to heavy crime in some districts.

The weekend unrest came after escalating violence in West Kingston over the past two months between gang factions supporting the ruling party and the opposition.

Tivoli Gardens, the focus of the weekend violence, is a stronghold of the Jamaica Labor Party, and JLP leader Edward Seaga has accused the government of fanning violence to discredit his party ahead of general elections due next year.

Some of the business leaders said they were stunned by what they saw as they walked streets littered with burned shells of cars, crumpled refrigerators and stoves, rocks and hundreds of shell casings from the gunfights.

The run-down streets of Kingston's poor neighborhoods are a collection of small shops, unfinished shells of concrete block houses, crumbling walls and makeshift shanties. The occasional brightly colored house with a neatly kept yard brightens the blighted areas.

"The conditions are severely depressing in terms of what they have to live in. You see some of the houses that have been burnt out … it really is unacceptable that people were living in conditions like this," said Peter Moses, president of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica, following the tour.

Business leaders urged a truce Wednesday between Patterson's governing party and the main opposition Labor party of former Prime Minister Seaga, which accuse each other of orchestrating the violence ahead of general elections scheduled by the end of next year.

Late on Tuesday, hundreds of people led by local church groups held a vigil, demanding peace in the poor communities.

"We really need this. We really need divine intervention," said resident Wayne Marshall.

Red Cross workers moved into battered sections of West Kingston to help treat the injured and to distribute food.

Dozens of residents said Jamaican security forces had held them virtual prisoners in their homes since the violence started. Some wept as they told of not being able to get to stores for food and other supplies such as medicines.

Opposition leader Seaga has repeatedly charged that during the weekend gun battles, police and security forces took "siper" positions and were shooting indiscriminately in the streets, an allegation supported by residents.

Patterson and police officials say that soldiers and police were just responding to attacks by snipers and firebombs while trying to control violence in the streets.

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