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At Least 49 Dead As State Of Emergency Declared in Southern Kyrgyzstan

  • RFE/RL

Unrest has continued in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, where at least 49 people are now reported to have been killed and more than 650 others injured in reported fighting between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek groups.

Reports say there was gunfire through the night in parts of Osh, and homes have been set ablaze.

The violence -- the worst since an April uprising ousted former President Kurmanbek Bakiev from power -- prompted the country's interim authorities to send in troops and declare a state of emergency in the cities of Osh and Uzgen and the nearby districts of Aravan and Karasuu.

The Human Rights Watch group has called for the international community to take action to help Kyrgyz authorities get control of the situation.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch's Central Asia adviser, Andrea Berg, who is in Osh, called for involvement by the United Nations Security Council, saying the international community should take immediate action to help the Kyrgyz government prevent what she called "widescale interethnic conflict."

The statement added that gas has been shut off in Osh to prevent fires, and some neighborhoods have been left without electricity.

RFE/RL's correspondent in Osh, Alisher Toksonbaev, says a scuffle initially erupted between rival groups of local Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbek youth in the early hours of June 11. Gunfire soon broke out, he reports.

Our correspondent said it's not yet clear what sparked the violence, the worst since an April uprising ousted former President Kurmanbek Bakiev from power amid clashes that killed more than 80 people.

Kyrgyz soldiers stand on an armored vehicle in the streets of Osh on June 11.
Some reports spoke of a brawl that quickly turned into clashes between the two youth groups.

Around 1,000 people were reportedly involved in fighting, smashing windows, looting shops, and setting fire to cars, cafes, and leisure centers.

Osh city's Drama Theater and Philharmonic Concert Hall were among buildings set on fire during the riots. Several police vehicles were destroyed.

Reports of deaths and casualties followed shortly after, with the Health Ministry saying more than 450 people were hospitalized with injuries, including many gunshot wounds.

The ministry sent a 27-strong team of doctors on a special flight from Bishkek to Osh.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Kyrgyz Red Crescent Society have also provided medical supplies to six hospitals in the area to help them cope with a mass influx of wounded.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe all appealed for calm. Both the United States and Russia maintain military bases in Kyrgyzstan.

At a security summit in neighboring Uzbekistan, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia wanted a swift end to the conflict.

Interim leader Roza Otunbaeva speaks during a meeting with human rights activists in Bishkek on June 11.
RFE/RL's correspondent reports that two senior Kyrgyz officials were attacked by a crowd of young Kyrgyz in Bishkek.

The group of young Kyrgyz men was demanding that the interim government provide them with a bus to travel to Osh. Interim government Deputy Chairman Temir Sariev and Deputy Interior Minister Kubanychbek Kadyrov were trying to talk them out of their plans when they were attacked by several of the group's members.

Security guards and police managed to protect the two officials and help them to escape into the parliament building.

The deadly violence prompted the interim authorities to call an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the situation.

Ismail Isakov and Bolot Sherniyazov, defense minister and interior minister in the interim government, respectively, flew to Osh immediately after the emergency meeting.

Our correspondent says troops were dispatched to the area.

In a televised address, interim leader Roza Otunbaeva appealed for calm. She said the authorities have "managed to stop attempts by destructive elements" to instigate clashes between different groups.

"We are very concerned with the situation [in southern Kyrgyzstan] as various forces continue to add fuel to the fire, including those that are interested in destabilizing the situation in Kyrgyzstan," she said.

"Those who want to disrupt the referendum, who stand against the government's course, against everything that started on April 7, are doing all they can to stoke tensions so that relations between the old government and the new forces turn into an ethnic [conflict]."

At a security summit in neighboring Uzbekistan, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia wanted a swift end to the conflict.

Our correspondent in Osh says few people could be seen on the streets today of the otherwise vibrant city of some 220,000.

A man looks at a vandalized building on the streets of Osh.
"No organizations are operating today, including banks. Public transport is not functioning. There are many soldiers and police forces, as well as tanks and armored vehicles, in the city," Toksonbaev says. "There are very few people on the streets. People are demanding [the authorities] put an end to what has happened. They demand life be returned to normal as soon as possible."

Several local television channels, including Osh TV, Mezon TV, DDD, and Piramida stations went off the air for most of the day. Representatives of the television channels linked the interruption of their programs to the ongoing tensions in the city.

Toksonbaev says local people remain anxious, and there are various rumors about imminent attacks based on interethnic rivalries between local Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.

Osh has a sizable community of ethnic Uzbeks. The city has a history of ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.

Skirmishes broke out between the two communities last month, although the interim government managed to prevent the conflict spreading to the rest of the region.

The area saw deadly interethnic conflict in 1990, when several hundred people were killed.

The situation in Osh and other southern Kyrgyz provinces has remained volatile since the April political riots that led to regime change in Bishkek.

Southern Kyrgyzstan was the power base of former president Kurmanbek Bakiev, who was ousted in a violent revolt in April.

Several demonstrations and riots have taken place in all three southern Kyrgyz provinces of Batken, Jalal-Abad, and Osh since April.

written by Farangis Najibullah, with contributions from RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and agency reports

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