LIFE began returning to the capital, Kingston, yesterday as Jamaicans breathed a sigh of relief that the security forces had repelled the criminal backers of Tivoli Gardens strongman Christopher Coke.
The eerie ghost-town haze that hung over much of the metropolitan area since Monday lifted dramatically, transforming the streets of Kingston into a buzz of activity, amid clear signs that the security forces had prevailed against fugitive Coke’s shooters who had thrown up booby-trapped barricades around the Tivoli enclave, and launched a frightening offensive against police stations.
Information Minister Daryl Vaz confidently invited city dwellers to resume normal business starting today and to put behind them the three-day lockdown as a result of heavy gun-fighting, triggered by the resistance to the effort to arrest Coke who is wanted by the United States for alleged trafficking in drugs and guns.
“The security forces, as of this afternoon, are advising members of the public living and working in downtown Kingston, especially operators of businesses in the area, that they can now return to work and conduct their normal business safely,” Vaz said at the press conference at the Hilton Hotel in Kingston.
“The security forces will facilitate the free movement of citizens who wish to go about their lawful business and have assured that all measures will be put in place to ensure the safety of the public,” the information minister assured.
All ministries, departments and agencies of Government located within the business district of the capital will also be opened, said Vaz, who noted that Kingston schools would remain closed.
“…Normalcy is fast returning to areas of downtown Kingston,” he told journalists, while the president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, Joseph Matalon, and Milton Samuda, who heads the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, looked on. Vaz said there would be ample security presence in the area.
The state-run Jamaica Urban Transit Company will also resume full service to downtown and the Justice Ministry announced that the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston and the Spanish Town Resident Magistrate’s Court in St Catherine would resume regular court sessions today, with the caveat “barring any unforeseen circumstances”.
The signs of a return to normality could be seen as early as yesterday morning as scores of residents ventured out in the business district to shop for food from the throng of vendors who came out after it was clear that the security forces were in control of the situation.
“Over the last three days I could not come out of my house. Things look as if it slowly returning,” said one vendor who was seen yesterday selling food items near the Heywood Street vending area.
“Bwoy, it look as if light is slowly returning,” agreed a female vendor who identified herself only as Merl.
Shoppers shared the same sentiment.
Business operations in downtown had been waning since last week Monday when Prime Minister Bruce Golding announced in a national broadcast that he had instructed Justice Minister Dorothy Lightbourne to authorise the commencement of extradition proceedings against Coke after stonewalling the process for the past nine months.
A steep downturn in business was brought on by news the following day that a warrant had been issued for Coke’s arrest. Nervous shoppers avoided the downtown business district and men loyal to Coke barricaded Tivoli Gardens in anticipation of a move by the security forces to apprehend Coke.
On Sunday the gunmen burnt the Hannah Town Police Station and engaged lawmen in open gun battles in the streets. The Darling Street Police Station was also set ablaze by gunmen on Monday.
Things came to a head at noon on Monday when the Government declared a limited State of Public Emergency and sent in the security forces to Tivoli to restore law and order and effect the warrant on Coke.
Police yesterday said that more than 40 civilians were killed and 25 injured during the failed attempt to capture Coke. Vaz said yesterday that the nation would soon be updated on the fatalities, while confirming that more than 500 persons were detained for questioning by the authorities.
Up to yesterday, areas of Beckford and Darling Streets were still heavily manned by a large contingent of soldiers and police. Over in Tivoli Gardens sounds of sporadic gunfire could still be heard, as security forces carried out mopping-up activities.
Apparently taking no chances, businesses along sections of Orange Street remained shuttered throughout the day.
On Charles Street inside Denham Town men could be seen clearing several roadblocks on the instruction of the soldiers from the Jamaica Defence Force. Members of the army were also observed using heavy machinery to clear roadblocks and debris to the north-west side of Coronation Market.
All entrances into Denham Town and Tivoli Gardens remained heavily guarded by soldiers.