Slum dwellers seethed with anger Thursday at Jamaica's security forces waging a house-to-house search for a powerful druglord, with the death toll rising but no trace of the operation's target.
Police said 73 bodies have been found in morgues, some in a state of decomposition, although several deaths may not have been linked to the four-day-old assault. Three security personnel have died.
Heaps of sometimes smoldering garbage littered streets of western Kingston, a world away from Jamaica's world-famous beaches and the stronghold of gangster Christopher "Dudus" Coke -- who is wanted by the United States on drug charges.
|A Jamaican soldier speaks with a resident of Kingston's Tivoli Gardens neighborhood. Slum dwellers seethed with anger Thursday at security forces waging a house-to-house search for a powerful druglord, as the death toll rose in Jamaica's wave of violence without any sign of the operation's target.|
Outside one ramshackle apartment, a woman who said she been inside for two days pushed aside with a rake the rotting body of a cat she found at her doorstep.
"What we need is money and food," said a middle-aged woman named Marlene. "Coke, he take care the community. Not the soldiers, they just shoot."
Residents accused security forces of firing indiscriminately in recent days.
Joan, a 19-year-old student who said her brother was killed, vented fury as people around her tried to calm her down.
"Why so many deaths for one man? If Dudus had something to do with we, he'd have given himself up, not we getting massacred," she said.
"And we, we starving to death since Sunday! He surely far away, outta Jamaica."
Government officials have refused to discuss Coke's whereabouts.
"Our best information is that he was not arrested. His whereabouts we cannot tell you," Glenroy Hinds, deputy commissioner of police, told a news conference.
Information Minister Daryl Vaz said the government was "very concerned" about accusations of mistreatment of civilians and would post a public defender permanently in the affected area to hear complaints.
Hinds said the lines between civilians and combatants had become blurry, saying civilians were "sometimes also gunmen and gunwomen."
Amnesty International appealed for a thorough investigation, saying that Jamaican police had a "dire" human rights record and had often carried out unlawful killings in the past.
US prosecutors accuse Coke and his "Shower Posse" gang of funneling cocaine and marijuana to New York and other eastern US cities, contributing to violence that has caused thousands of deaths in both countries.
But many poor Jamaicans look to Coke as a hero who provides a semblance of protection on some of the world's most dangerous streets, along with small-time jobs and education.
Walls were covered with artwork depicting Coke's father and don predecessor, Jim Brown, who died in a mysterious fire at a police jail in 1991.
One portrait read "Jim Brown: One Man Against the World," next to images of other revered figures including reggae superstar Bob Marley and Ethiopia's late emperor Haile Selaissie I, a demigod in the Rastafarian faith.
The relationships between the gangsters are government are complicated. At election time, Coke had mobilized for Prime Minister Bruce Golding's Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), while other dons have supported the opposition.
Near crumbling guesthouses and restaurants selling jerk chicken -- businesses that according to locals were run with Coke -- graffiti urges support for the JLP and, "We Want Bruce."
Golding, who represents Tivoli Gardens in parliament, declared a state of emergency on Sunday after months of hesitation, vowing both to capture Coke and to battle Jamaica's scourge of crime.
Despite the anger in the slums, the operation has enjoyed support among many wealthier Jamaicans who have rejoiced at a chance to break the island's long relationship between crime and politics.
Life was returning to normal outside of the worst-hit area, with the US embassy reopening for the first time since the assault was launched.
The United States has strongly supported the operation and provided bulletproof vests to Jamaican security forces, concerned about the island's role as a conduit for drugs.
In Washington, the United States pledged 45 million dollars for a new partnership called the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative to work together to fight drug-traffickers and other transnational criminal gangs.