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Uzbek Government Troops Enter Eastern Border Town

Soldiers in Karasu Prague, 19 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Reports say Uzbek troops have reclaimed control of the eastern border town of Karasu, where protesters last week had chased out federal authorities following a bloody military crackdown in the nearby city of Andijon.

Local residents say hundreds of Uzbek troops moved into Karasu during the night and immediately proceeded to arrest Bakhtiyor Rakhimov, a man identified as the leader of last week's protests.

Residents say government soldiers also nabbed a number of Rakhimov's aides. They also say more arrests followed after daybreak. These reports of arrests could not be immediately verified, however.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Gofur Yuldoshev, who arrived in Karasu from Andijon this morning, filed this report from the divided town: "Soldiers driving in cars control the town. Helicopters are flying overhead. As for the bridge that leads into [the Kyrgyz part of the town], border guards abandoned it on 14 May during the unrest. As the army entered the town today, they returned. Many of them are carrying weapons. In addition, there are several people clad in black uniforms -- probably Interior Ministry officers. They're carrying machine guns, ready to open fire [at any moment]."

Karasu was taken over by protesters on 14 May as government troops were violently reasserting control over Andijon, some 35 kilometers farther west.

The demonstrators had seized the town's administration building, forcing the mayor to publicly criticize Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Elmurod Yusupaliev, who witnessed the scene, reported this at the time: "This morning [14 May], several thousand people gathered outside the city mayor's office in Karasu. They stormed the building and beat up several employees of the town's administration. They took the town's mayor hostage. I was right there watching. They forced the town's mayor to climb on the building's roof and ordered him to denounce Karimov's policies. They said, 'Otherwise, we won't let you come down.' Meanwhile, policemen were running away. And so were the border guards."

Soon after asserting control over the town, the protesters proceeded to hastily repair the footbridge the Uzbek government had ordered destroyed two years ago to prevent cross-border trade. The move allowed residents to cross into Kyrgyzstan to resume trading at the local market.

Taking advantage of the absence of Uzbek soldiers in Karasu, many Andijon residents had made for the town in a bid to seek refuge in Kyrgyzstan. But the Uzbek government had soon managed to curb the flow of refugees by sealing off the town with troops.

Yuldoshev said Uzbek troops were apparently letting traders cross into Kyrgyzstan today. "People are crossing the bridge after showing their passports," he reported. "The have no problem crossing the bridge. All they have to do is show their passports."

Meanwhile, the Kyrgyz border-guard administration confirmed today that Bishkek had sent back several Uzbeks who had sought refuge in the country in the past few days.

Uzbekistan's opposition-leaning information website quoted a spokeswoman for the Kyrgyz border guards, Gulmira Borubaeva, as saying 17 people so far had been handed over to the Uzbek authorities.

Borubaeva justified the decision to send these people back to Uzbekistan by saying none of them were carrying identification papers. She also denied Karimov's claims that refugees entering Kyrgyzstan were armed.

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

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

See also:

What Really Happened On Bloody Friday?

Where Does Crisis Go From Here?

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'