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Uzbekistan: Border Bridge Closed After Apparent Taliban Defeat

Mazar-I-Sharif, Afghanistan; 28 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Correspondents say Afghanistan's Taliban Islamic militia was driven out of the northern city of Mazar-I-Sharif today in a fierce battle.

Meanwhile, Uzbekistan has closed a key bridge that links the former Soviet Republic to Afghanistan at the border about 50 kilometers north of Mazar-I-Sharif. The move is seen as a precaution against fighting in Afghanistan.

Latest reports say at least 20 dead Taliban fighters lay on the streets of Mazar-e-Sharif along with the hulks of several armored vehicles that were destroyed in the 18-hour battle. More dead are reported in the desert around the city. But there was no official report on the number of casualties.

Fighting erupted yesterday, reportedly after Taliban tanks and armored personnel carriers moved into the city's northern Shi'ite muslim district of Saidabad to collect weapons. Shi'ites resisted and were joined by forces of ethnic Uzbek general Abdul Malik, whose troops allied with the Taliban just last week to oust opposition warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum from his city stronghold. Dostum fled to Turkey.