Wanted 'drug baron' may have fled

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The Independent US

Police hunting for an alleged drugs baron in a slum area of the capital, Kingston, warned that the death toll in his stronghold would rise further after admitting that he might have left the country.

Trucks carried decomposing bodies to the morgue as the city began to return to normal following a four-day siege in the suburb of Tivoli Gardens, where Christopher "Dudus" Coke is said to have established a virtual fiefdom. Glenmore Hinds, the deputy police chief, said at least 73 people died in shootouts as officers searched the area for Coke, who is wanted for extradition to the US. Residents of crime-ridden Tivoli Gardens had vowed to protect the alleged drug lord, who is revered by many as a Robin Hood figure.

Daryl Vaz, Jamaica's information minister, said officials were trying to identify the victims of the operation and the government would launch independent investigations into all police actions. He admitted that it was not certain whether Coke was still in the country.

As the assault wound down, police carried out door-to-door searches for criminals and associates of the alleged gangster, who is accused by Washington of leading a drugs ring that smuggled cocaine and marijuana to the US. More than 500 people have already been arrested. The rising death toll led the health ministry to appeal for blood donations yesterday after disruption at hospitals put supplies at "critically low levels".