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Uzbek Interior Ministry Says 70 Detained Over Clashes

Prague, 16 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Tensions remain high in eastern Uzbekistan following deadly clashes between government troops and protesters. The Uzbek Interior Ministry says 70 people have been detained in connection with the violence that broke out on 13 May in the city of Andijon. Human rights activists say up to 1,500 people have been detained.

[For more on the events around Andijon, see RFE/RL's dedicated webpage: Unrest in Uzbekistan]

Uzbek Interior Minister Zakir Almatov says that among the 70 people who have been detained are some of the organizers of the 13 May attack on a police station and military unit in Andijon.

The attackers seized weapons and freed hundreds of prisoners from a high-security prison. Witnesses say Uzbek troops later opened fire on a crowd numbering in the thousands that had gathered in Andijon to protest government policies. Estimates of the number killed range from 30 to 500.

The government of President Islam Karimov has denied ordering troops to open fire on the demonstrators. Authorities have restricted the access of journalists to the affected areas, however.

RFE/RL's Russian Service correspondent Andrei Babitskii, who was in Andijon early today, quoted local human rights activists as saying the number of those detained is much higher.

"The [Andijon] city center is sealed off," Babiskii reported. "There are military troops based there. The city is surrounded. All entries are blocked. In the city, there have been mass arrests for several days. Local human rights activists say some 1,500 people have been arrested so far. People have been taken to the police departments of the city and region."

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent in Andijon, Gafur Yuldoshev, says two people were killed in further violence in Andijon yesterday, including a 15-year-old girl.

"On 15 May in Andijon, soldiers shot dead at least two people. One of them is a 30-year-old man who was shot dead near the regional medical emergency center when he tried to cross the street. Soldiers warned him first and then opened fire. The other one is a 15-year-old girl. She was shot dead near the regional Interior Ministry department building. She was also warned first and then shot dead," Yuldoshev reported.

Following the 13 May crackdown, hundreds of Uzbeks fled by crossing the border into neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

One of the refugees spoke to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service yesterday in the Kyrgyz city of Jalal-abad, near the Uzbek border. "We came here leaving behind our parents, everything," the woman said. "We ask for help. We appeal to all countries, please help the Andijon people. We ask for freedom."

A team from the United Nations High commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) traveled yesterday to the Kyrgyz city of Suzak, 80 kilometers northeast of Andijon. The UNHCR says most of the 560 Uzbeks who had arrived there were men, and that 18 were wounded.

Speaking from the Kyrgyz side of the border, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Elmurod Yusupaliev said today that the Kyrgyz government has set up another refugee camp in Bazarkorgan district, some 70 kilometers east of Andijon.

"I received information that the biggest refugee camp has been set up [by the Kyrgyz government] in Bazarkorgan district of Kyrgyzstan. There are more than 600 Uzbek refugees there. Most of them are beaten up, some are wounded, and there are many women and children among them," Yusupaliev said.

Bridges linking the two countries have been rebuilt at Karasu on the border. The bridges were destroyed two years ago in what the government said was a crackdown on cross-border trade.

Babitskii, who is at the border region, says the situation there is now calm. "Right now, I am in Karasu on the [Uzbek] border with Kyrgyzstan. I am right at the river which divides the city into two parts," he reported. "We crossed the city, and there are no signs of any unrest, even though there was unrest two days ago when insurgents and their family members fled from Andijon and tried to go to Kyrgyzstan."

Meanwhile, the speaker of the Kyrgyz parliament, Omurbek Tekebaev, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 14 May that he believes Bishkek should grant political asylum to the Uzbek refugees.

"We [Kyrgyzstan] are part of several international agreements," Tekebaev said. "We have a commitment to the international community to give asylum to those who would be persecuted on a political basis. If such citizens [of foreign countries] were to come to Kyrgyzstan, then we have a commitment to give them asylum, and we should do so in accordance with our own law."

Sixty-year-old Uzbek refugee Nurullo Maksudov told RFE/RL in Jalal-abad that the refugees have no intention of returning. "We will not leave [Kyrgyzstan]! If we return, there is no doubt we will be shot," he said. "Better we die here."

The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation's (OSCE) center in Bishkek told RFE/RL today that the OSCE center in Tashkent has offered to act as a mediator between the Uzbek government and the refugees. However, Markus Muller acknowledges that the issue is a "delicate" one.

"This is a delicate question because, of course, most of the refugees are normal people, but it seems there are also people with weapons [among them]," Muller said.

(By Antoine Blua and Gulnoza Saidazimova)

Click here for a gallery of images from the violence in eastern Uzbekistan on 13-14 May.

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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