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Armed Assailants Attack Police Post In Uzbekistan

Khanabad is 70 kilometers west of Andijon, in the Ferghana Valley.
BISHKEK (Reuters) -- A group of armed men attacked a police station and exchanged gunfire with security forces in a small eastern Uzbekistan town near the Kyrgyzstan border, witnesses and Kyrgyz border officials have said.

Circumstances of the shooting in the town of Khanabad were unclear and there was no word on casualties. Authorities in Uzbekistan, Central Asia's most populous country, could not be reached for comment.

A Kyrgyz border guards spokesman said the attack occurred in the early hours of May 26.

"We registered an explosion in Khanabad around 2 a.m.," the spokesman said. "A group of unknown assailants attacked a police station."

One Khanabad resident told Reuters he had heard an explosion in the town center overnight. He said security had been tightened but there were no signs of unrest on May 26.

Russia's Interfax news agency quoted an Uzbek security source as saying the attack was organized by members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is classified as an Islamist terrorist group in Central Asia.

"Unfortunately they managed to escape," the source said.

The news agency also quoted an unnamed representative of the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office as saying no one was injured in the attack.

The West is concerned about stability in Uzbekistan, a reclusive nation which lies on a new route for U.S. supplies bound for troops fighting in neighboring Afghanistan.

Western security analysts say the IMU was largely wiped out during U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan, but some have pointed to a possible rise in its activity in recent months alongside a parallel resurgence in Taliban operations.

Three residents of Andijon, a city 70 kilometers to the west of Khanabad, said on May 26 tanks had appeared on the streets and police manned most city corners.

Andijon was the scene of a bloody 2005 uprising that earned Uzbekistan international condemnation. Uzbek officials say 187 people died, while independent witnesses said hundreds of unarmed civilians were killed during the uprising.

Khanabad and Andijon lie in the heart of the Ferghana Valley, Central Asia's most densely populated area, where the economic crisis and falling remittances from migrant workers have sharpened divisions among its ethnically divided people.

Uzbekistan has been ruled by President Islam Karimov with an iron fist since 1989. Karimov is criticized in the West for not tolerating dissent and jailing political opponents.

The Uzbek leader left for Brazil on a visit on May 26 and there was no mention of the attack in state media.