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U.S. Senators In Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan

Bishkek, 30 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- A visiting delegation of U.S. senators met today with Kyrgyz First Deputy Prime Minister Feliks Kulov.

Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and John Sununu discussed the status of the refugees who fled the deadly clashes in eastern Uzbekistan earlier this month.

McCain said he hopes the Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan will not be forced to return. In neighboring Uzbekistan yesterday, the three senators criticized the government for refusing to allow an international investigation into the violence, in which witnesses say troops opened fire on demonstrators.

The death toll is estimated by opposition and human rights groups at up to 1,000 people. The Uzbek government says 173 people were killed, mostly what it calls "bandits."

McCain told a news conference in Tashkent that the delegation visited Uzbekistan because of the recent violence, which he said "entailed the killing of innocent people."

"We find the recent events to be shocking, but not unexpected in a country that does not allow the exercise of human rights and democracy," he said.

McCain said no Uzbek government officials had agreed to meet with the senators.

(RFE/RL Kyrgyz and Uzbek Services/AP)