Kyrgyzstan's Death Toll Rises to 84 as Ethnic Riots Spread

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by
Reuters

Kyrgyzstan's Death Toll Rises to 84 as Ethnic Riots Spread

by
Hulkar Isamova

Servicemen drive armoured vehicles in the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan June 11, 2010. At least 12 people were killed and 126 were wounded during the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan on Friday, the Health Ministry said. (Credit: REUTERS/Alexei Osokin)

Kyrgyzstan - The worst ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan in 20 years spread
at the weekend with armed gangs stepping up attacks that have killed at
least 84 people and the ousted president warning the country faced
collapse.

Witnesses
saw bodies lying on the streets of the Central Asian republic's second
largest city Osh as houses and shops in an Uzbek neighborhood burned
for a third day.

Snipers fired at
ethnic Uzbeks fleeing for the nearby border with Uzbekistan in fighting
that has spread to the city of Jalalabad and surrounding villages.

"God
help us! They are killing Uzbeks like animals. Almost the whole city is
in flames," Dilmurad Ishanov, an ethnic Uzbek human rights worker, told
Reuters by telephone from Osh.

The interim government of Kyrgyzstan, an ex-Soviet republic hosting U.S. and Russian
military bases, has granted shoot-to-kill powers to its security forces
in response to the deadly riots between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the
two southern cities.

The Interior
Ministry said it had sent a volunteer force to the south because the
situation in the Osh and Jalalabad regions -- strongholds of ousted
president Kurmanbek Bakiyev -- remained "complex and tense."

Renewed turmoil in Kyrgyzstan has fueled concern in Russia,
the United States and neighbor China. Washington uses an air base at
Manas in the north of the country, about 300 km (190 miles) from Osh,
to supply its forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistani
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said he believed 15 Pakistani
citizens had been taken hostage and one killed in Osh. About 1,200
Pakistanis, mostly students, live in Kyrgyzstan, though many have
returned home for summer holidays.

The
new upsurge in violence has resulted in almost as many deaths as the
riots that accompanied the overthrow of Bakiyev in April. Interim
government leader Roza Otunbayeva has accused supports of Bakiyev, who
is exiled in Belarus, of stoking ethnic conflict.

Bakiyev issued a statement from Minsk describing claims he was behind the clashes as "shameless lies."

"The
Kyrgyz republic is on the verge of losing its statehood. People are
dying and no one from the current authorities is in a position to
protect them," he said.

Supporters
of Bakiyev briefly seized government buildings in the south on May 13,
defying central authorities. The Otunbayeva government has only limited
control over the south, which is separated from the northern capital
Bishkek by mountains.

Kyrgyzstan appealed on Saturday for Russian
help in quelling the riots, which the Health Ministry says have killed
84 people -- 75 in Osh and nine in Jalalabad -- and wounded 1,122.

Retired
builder Habibullah Khurulayev, 69, said he was afraid to leave his
apartment in the besieged district of Osh. Uzbeks armed with hunting
rifles manned improvised barricades to keep out Kyrgyz gangs with
automatic rifles, he said.

The
gangs had attacked a hospital 600 meters from his home, while pleas by
Uzbeks for a military escort to the border 10 km (6 miles) away had
been ignored, he said.

"They are
killing us with impunity," he said. "The police are doing nothing. They
are helping them kill us ... There are not many of us left to shoot."

Ishanov said the fighting had spread into villages around Osh. In one settlement, smoke rose after prolonged gunfire.

In
Jalalabad, gunmen shot at firefighters racing to a blaze at the
Uzbek-run University of Friendship of Peoples, wounding a driver,
Emergencies Ministry spokesman Sultan Mamatov said.

Russia
has said it will not send in peacekeepers alone but would discuss the
situation on Monday within a Moscow-led security bloc of former Soviet
republics known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Russian
President Dmitry Medvedev was following the situation closely and had
discussed it with the leaders of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the two
powers bordering Kyrgyzstan, the Kremlin said.

Kyrgyzstan's interim defense minister Ismail Isakov renewed his government's appeal to Moscow on Sunday, saying Russian special forces could end the conflict quickly.

The
latest clashes are the worst ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan
since 1990, when then-Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev sent Soviet
troops into Osh after hundreds of people were killed in a dispute that
started over land ownership.

Kyrgyzstan
and Uzbekistan intertwine in the Fergana Valley. While Uzbeks make up
14.5 percent of the Kyrgyz population, the two groups are roughly equal
in the Osh and Jalalabad regions.

Residents
of Osh fled to the border with Uzbekistan on Saturday, and thousands of
women and children made it across. But Uzbekistan closed the border
overnight and some people have been unable to cross, said Cholponbek
Turuzbekov, deputy commander of the Kyrgyz border service.

(Additional reporting by Olga Dzyubenko in Bishkek, Andrei Makhovsky in Minsk, Conor Humphries in Moscow and Robin Paxton in Almaty, Writing by Robin Paxton; editing by Noah Barkin)

 

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