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Uneasy Calm In Uzbekistan After Two Days Of Violence

Prague, 15 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- There are no new reports of violence today from Uzbekistan after two days of bloodshed in which hundreds of people appear to have died in a government crackdown on protesters in the eastern city of Andijon.

[For more on this event, see RFE/RL's dedicated webpage: Unrest in Uzbekistan]

The violence has caused several thousand people to flee Andijon for a town on the Kyrgyz border, where some have sought to cross despite the closure of checkpoints.

RFE/RL correspondent Sadriddin Ashurov, reporting by telephone from Andijon early today, said the main square where security forces fired on protesters on 13 May is now quiet.

"The main square where the protest rally took place on Friday [13 May] is now under the control of the [government] military forces. The situation in Andijon is now under the firm control of the military forces," Ashurov reported.

Exactly how many people were killed when security forces fired upon a crowd of several thousand protesters surrounding a seized public building in the square on 13 May is still unknown.

The government puts the number of dead around 30. Uzbek President Islam Karimov said late yesterday that 10 police and troops were killed in what Tashkent described as a fight against rebels.

But witnesses and human rights group say the number may be as high as 500, and most were civilians.

Gulbahor Toraeva is the head of a nongovernmental organization in Uzbekistan called Animakor, which deals with the protection of the rights of medical doctors and their patients. She told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service today that she saw with her own eyes yesterday about 500 civilian corpses that had been gathered together at School No. 15 in Andijon.

"If we speak about [yesterday's] events, I went personally to School No. 15 in Andijon [yesterday] and I saw the bodies were gathered there. I saw it with my own eyes. There were about 500 bodies or more," Toraeva said.

The violence caused thousands of people to flee from Andijon toward neighboring Kyrgyzstan. In the border town of Korusov, the refugees clashed with Uzbek police and government buildings were set alight. Some refugees are reported to have crossed into Kyrgyzstan yesterday despite the closure of the border crossings. The border has since reopened.

As people in Andijon are reported to be burying their dead today, debate is raging in Uzbekistan over what motivated the protesters and how the government responded to the events.

Karimov told reporters in Tashkent yesterday that Islamists intent on overthrowing his government and establishing an Islamic state in its place were behind the unrest.

"Their goal was to benefit from the situation in Andijon, and overthrow the constitutional order and establish one branch of some unfeasible [Islamic] state named 'Islamic caliphate' and thus establish their own rule, their own government," Karimov said.

But Islamist groups have denied there was any armed revolt against the government.

A spokesman for the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, Imran Waheed, speaking from London in a phone interview with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service yesterday said the Islamists were being made a scapegoat.

"Our organization is not involved in the violence," Waheed said. "Rather our organization is involved in working to remove Karimov via political means. And we are continuing our work throughout Uzbekistan and in Andijon and the Ferghana Valley in order to bring about an atmosphere where the Islamic caliphate can come into existence once again."

Hizb ut-Tahrir is outlawed in Uzbekistan.

Karimov, a U.S. ally in the war on terror, has long cracked down on Islamist groups, including by arresting suspected members on charges of sedition.

But the Ferghana Valley is also rife with poverty and unemployment that has long fueled resentment against Karimov's government. Local human rights activists accuse the government of ignoring the region's problems and cracking down on any community leaders seen as posing a challenge to it.

See also:

Bloody Friday In The Ferghana Valley

Uzbek President Blames Islamist Group For Unrest

Protesters Charge Officials With Using Extremism Charges To Target Entrepreneurs

Analysis: Economic Concerns Primary In Andijon

Background: Banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Faces Dwindling Appeal, Internal Divisions

Interview: Opposition Leader Tells RFE/RL About 'Farmers' Revolution'

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