Kyrgyz Interim Leader Visits Conflict-Torn South; U.S. Envoy Calls For Probe Into Violence
After flying over the city of Osh to assess the extent of the destruction and damage, Otunbaeva pledged the region will be rebuilt and refugees will go home.
"We want to give the perspective, the hope that we will rebuild this city and we will definitely return the refugees back. We will create all the conditions necessary for that," Otunbaeva said. "I think the whole world will help us because we have the good will needed to live in a state of peace and friendship between these two peoples [Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbek]."
An RFE/RL correspondent on the scene said Otunbaeva appeared visibly shaken by what she'd seen while surveying her hometown of Osh.
WATCH: Otunbaeva on her visit to Osh, which has seen the worst violence in Kyrgyzstan in two decades. (Reuters video)
In an interview published before her visit, Otunbaeva said she feared the death toll would be 10 times higher than the officially acknowledged figures, which now stand at some 190 killed and nearly 2,000 injured.
According to UN estimates, the conflict has forced some 400,000 people to leave their homes in Osh and Jalal-Abad provinces.
Neighboring Uzbekistan has received at least 75,000 ethnic Uzbek refugees, who were targeted by Kyrgyz mobs in their homes in southern Kyrgyzstan.
The refugees have been placed in makeshift camps in Uzbekistan's Andijon border province.
An impoverished Central Asian country of 5.5 million, Kyrgyzstan hosts both U.S. and Russian military bases.
"Russian troops will arrive to protect the Russian consulate here," Otunbaeva said. "Also, they will guard our strategic sites. As you know, if those dark instigators and provocateurs attack our strategic sites, then there will be very bad consequences."
Refugee Stories 'Need To Be Heard'
Robert Blake, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for south and central Asian affairs, visited refugee camps in Andijon today after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at length with Otunbaeva on June 17.
She said Washington's priority is to "work with the international community to try to support the provisional government in bringing about a resumption of order.”
So far the United States has committed just over $32 million to programs for humanitarian relief, reconstruction, and community stabilization.
Today, Blake said, "it's important that there be an investigation" into the ethnic conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan.
"But given the large number of ethnic Uzbek refugees here in Uzbekistan whose stories need to be heard, the Kyrgyz investigation needs to be accompanied by an investigation by an independent body," he added.
Blake also called on Kyrgyz authorities "to stop the violence and with it the flow of refugees."
The UN's top human rights body, the Human Rights Council, echoed Blake's call in a resolution today, in which it urged a "full and transparent" probe into the recent violence and the deaths of some 85 people during April's antigovernment protests.
There have been widespread allegations of beatings, torture, and rapes of ethnic Uzbeks at the hands of Kyrgyz mobs.
The worst of the violence has eased, but sporadic attacks and looting have continued and RFE/RL correspondents in Osh reported seeing small groups of ethnic Uzbek women leaving for the Uzbek border today.
RFE/RL correspondent Janarbek Akaev says local residents had many demands for the acting president. During a meeting inside the provincial administration building, around 200 people gathered outside in hopes of expressing demands personally to Otunbaeva that include explanations of political appointments under the interim leadership and actions by law-enforcement officers.
Breaking The Cycle
The conflict, which initially broke out on June 11, has left many parts of Osh in ruins. Many buildings, including cultural and business centers, shops, and restaurants, were set alight along with private houses.
Kyrgyz were reported to be among the victims of the violence, but most of the attacks targeted ethnic Uzbeks' houses and Uzbek-operated businesses.
WATCH: The Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities in Jalal-Abad came together for a prayer meeting on June 17 to reconcile after the week of deadly ethnic violence. (Reuters video)
As local residents gathered for Friday prayers today, RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier, who is in Osh, said there were signs of reconciliation among the Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks, who gathered in Osh's Imam Al-Bukhari mosque.
The imam there used his sermon to remind people that ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz are fellow Muslims and therefore brothers, adding that people should not fall prey to provocations.
Correspondent Pannier said ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz were talking and shaking hands outside the mosque, which stood in stark contrast to the burned-out cafes, houses, and other buildings on either side of it. In the abandoned Uzbek neighborhood of Cheryomushki, Pannier said that cars and parts of homes are still burning, and nearly all property had been damaged or destroyed.
In spite of the signs of reconciliation, one ethnic Uzbek man told RFE/RL that ethnic Uzbeks still fear for their lives. "The reason why we were not been able to see Roza Otunbaeva is the danger to our lives. We can’t be confident that we will get there alive. And we decided not to try,” he said.
“They say that the situation is stabilizing but that’s not true. Conflicts erupt here and there and the government is not doing anything to stop this," the man said. "Yesterday we went to the center but as soon as we crossed the checkpoint, Kyrgyz people found out about this and wanted to attack us."
Kyrgyzstan's interim government, which came to power in the wake of a popular uprising in April, has been struggling to assert control in the south.
Interim leaders blame supporters of the ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiev for inciting and financing the violence in the region, where the former leader hails from. Bakiev has denied any connection to the conflict.
As the worst of the violence appears to be easing in the south, reports say hundreds of ethnic Uyghurs have fled the capital Bishkek and its suburbs, after receiving threats from unidentified people that they would be the next target of attacks.
AP news agency quoted the vice president of the country's Uyghur community, Zhamaldin Nasyrov, as saying most of ethnic Uyghurs have left for Kazakhstan, where many have relatives.
Nasyrov told the news agency that unknown people left threatening warnings on ethnic Uyghurs' houses and fences.
Kyrgyzstan, once seen as the most democratic country in Central Asia, has been dogged by riots, instability, and public uprisings in the past two decades. Both of the country's post-Soviet presidents were toppled by mass protests.
Shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, bloody ethnic violence left hundreds dead when clashes erupted between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh in 1990.
written by Farangis Najiballah based on RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service and agency reports
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The moves came amid a brutal crackdown by the government after weeks of unrest -- one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979 -- that erupted following the September 16 death of Amini.
Prior to her arrest, Ghaziani posted along with her photos a statement saying that "maybe this is my last post. From this moment on, whatever happens to me, know that I am with the People of Iran until the last breath."
Earlier in an Instagram posting, Ghaziani called Iran a "child-killing state."
Many members of the Iranian cinematic and artistic community have been summoned and interrogated by security agencies for supporting protesters.
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KYIV -- President Volodymyr Zelenskiy declared that Ukraine “cannot be broken” as he cited his country’s fight against the Russian invasion and marked the anniversary of the famine regarded by Ukrainians to be a deliberate act perpetrated by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
"Ukrainians went through very terrible things...Once they wanted to destroy us with hunger -- now, with darkness and cold," Zelenskiy said on November 26 in a video message.
"We cannot be broken," he declared.
The prime ministers of EU and NATO members Belgium, Lithuania, and Poland were in Kyiv to mark the day and to attend a summit hosted by Zelenskiy to press the “Grain From Ukraine” initiative designed to get crucial supplies to world markets. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron were among those speaking through video addresses.
Zelenskiy’s remarks came amid widespread cuts in power and water supplies in his country after weeks of Russian strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure and as temperatures plunge with the beginning of winter.
Zelenskiy and other leaders commemorated the victims of the Holodomor famine, which took place in 1932-33 as Stalin's police forced peasants in Ukraine to join collective farms by requisitioning their grain and other foodstuffs.
Historians say the failure to properly harvest crops in Ukraine in 1932 under Soviet mismanagement was the main cause of the famine.
It is estimated that up to 9 million people died as a result of executions, deportation, and starvation during the Stalin-era campaign.
Many Ukrainians consider the famine an act of genocide aimed at wiping out Ukrainian farmers.
Along with Ukraine, at least 16 other countries have officially recognized the Holodomor as “genocide.”
In October 2018, the U.S. Senate adopted a nonbinding resolution recognizing that Stalin and those around him committed genocide against the Ukrainians in 1932-33.
German lawmakers are preparing to recognize the Holodomor as genocide, according to a draft text seen by the AFP news agency of a joint resolution from Germany's ruling coalition and opposition.
Moscow has long denied any systematic effort to target Ukrainians, arguing that a poor harvest at the time wiped out many in other parts of the Soviet Union.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that he "honored the memory of the Holodomor victims" at a memorial in the Ukrainian capital.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, on his first visit to Kyiv since the Russian invasion, said on Twitter that "after the heavy bombing of recent days, we stand with the people of Ukraine. More than ever before."
"With the cold winter months ahead, Belgium is releasing new humanitarian and military aid," he added.
Zelenskiy told the grain summit that Kyiv is one of the guarantors of world food security and will fulfill its duties despite the Russian invasion, citing the new “Grain From Ukraine” initiative.
He pressed world leaders to support the initiative aimed at feeding about 5 million people in poor countries, particularly Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Congo, Kenya, and Nigeria.
Speaking through video statements to the summit, Scholz and Macron unveiled new financial packages designed to aid Ukrainian grain exports, which have been hit hard by the war, causing food shortages in many of the world’s poorer nations.
"The most vulnerable countries must not pay the price of a war they did not want," Macron said.
Zelenskiy said the Black Sea Grain Initiative -- brokered by Turkey and the UN and agreed to by Russia and Ukraine -- is not operating at full capacity, blaming what he called Moscow's efforts to delay the movement of ships, leaving many vessels trapped at Ukrainian ports.
The deal took effect in August, aimed at unblocking grain shipments to countries in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia.
Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil, and other food to those countries, and Russia was the world's top exporter of fertilizer before it launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in February.
Many in the West have accused Russia of weaponizing the shipment of crucial food-related supplies to world markets. Moscow denies the accusations.
Meanwhile, throughout Ukraine, millions of people are still without heat or electricity after the recent devastating Russian air strikes on infrastructure sites.
Authorities on November 26 were gradually restoring power in many cities -- helped by the reconnection to the grid of the nation’s four nuclear plants.
Fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces was reported in the east and south of the country, as Kyiv’s troops continue their counteroffensive, which has recaptured thousands of kilometers of territory seized by Russia early in the war.
In the recently liberated southern city of Kherson and its environs, authorities said at least 32 people have been killed by Russian shelling since pro-Kremlin forces withdrew two weeks ago and moved to the eastern bank of the Dnieper River.
"Daily Russian shelling is destroying the city and killing peaceful local residents. In all, Russia has killed 32 civilians in the Kherson region since the de-occupation," Ihor Klymenko, chief of the National Police of Ukraine, said on Facebook.
"Many people are evacuating to seek refuge in calmer regions of the country. But many residents remain in their homes, and we need to provide them with the maximum possible security," he added.
With reporting by AFP and AP
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