Monday, May 16, 2005
Uzbek news roundup
Eight Uzbek soldiers and three Islamic militants died in a clash near the Kyrgyz border Sunday and more than 500 Uzbeks fled to safety across the frontier, villagers said, according to The Associated Press.
About 500 bodies were laid out in the nearby city of Andijan where troops fired on a crowd of protesters two days earlier, a doctor told AP.
Residents' accounts of the fighting in Tefektosh could not be independently confirmed, but blood stains were visible on the pavement, AP reported.
Villagers in the border town of Tefektosh said several troops were killed in a pre-dawn skirmish between armed men and government forces. One villager who declined to give his name said eight government troops were killed.
From BBC News:
Troops in Uzbekistan have sealed off Korasuv, a town on the border with Kyrgyzstan, where locals took control from government officials on Saturday.
Korasuv residents have been meeting to discuss how to run their own affairs.
The unrest spread to Korasuv from nearby Andijan, where peaceful protests turned bloody on Friday after troops opened fire on the crowd.
Several hundred people are feared to have been killed in Friday's violence, according to local doctors and NGOs.
Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov said 10 soldiers and "many more" protesters were killed in Andijan, and blamed the unrest on Islamic extremists.
From The Times:
ARMED men fought government forces near the city of Andijan in eastern Uzbekistan yesterday as witnesses reported that up to 600 people were killed when troops had opened fire on demonstrators.
Rebels killed several troops in the border town of Tefektosh as thousands of refugees tried to flee over the closed frontier to Kyrgyzstan to escape the worst violence in Uzbekistan since its independence in 1991.
In Korasuv, a town 50km (30 miles) east of Andijan, government offices and police cars were set alight. Protesters forced the mayor to reopen two river bridges that link the Uzbek and Kyrgyz sectors. The crossings had been closed by the authorities two years ago.
From The Scotsman:
GRAPHIC eyewitness accounts of the massacre of civilians by troops in the Uzbek town of Andijan emerged yesterday from fleeing refugees.
With human rights organisations reporting a death toll of up to 500 in Friday’s massacre, survivors told of soldiers machine-gunning women, children and their own police comrades.
Friday’s massacre began after the main square was occupied by thousands of opposition demonstrators. Many in the crowd had come along out of curiosity a day after armed rebels took control of the adjacent regional government building.
Without warning, groups of eight-wheeled armoured personnel carriers (APCs) rolled in.
Moving at high speed, one column raced into the square, and soldiers on board began shooting into the crowd.
"They shot at us like rabbits," a boy in his late teens said.
Panic broke out and the crowd scattered. The army units then advanced on a high school occupied by rebels.
Rebels forced captured policemen to leave the school and form a "human shield" in front of the soldiers, but the troops opened fire.
"About ten policemen were pushed ahead of the crowd as hostages," a 35-year-old businessman said.
"‘Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!’ they begged. But then the APC opened fire from about 150 metres away."
After the killing was over, the main square was littered with bodies and burning cars.
Some soldiers were also shot dead, apparently by rebels barricaded inside the government headquarters.
From The Daily Telegraph:
One of America's main allies in the fight against terrorism was accused yesterday of slaughtering women and children "like rabbits", placing the Bush administration in a quandary over its support for President Islam Karimov, the strong man of Central Asia.
Witnesses said that women and children were among the demonstrators shot by soldiers in Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic which has become crucial for America's attempt to keep control in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who faces criticism for British support of Uzbekistan's dictatorial regime, condemned its record.
He said the situation was "very serious" and there had been a "clear abuse" of human rights.
Mr Straw's remarks were in contrast to the near silence in Washington where the brutal crackdown in Uzbekistan has posed an acute dilemma.
From The Malaysia Star:
The families of some of the estimated 500 people killed by Uzbek troops here buried their dead yesterday to the sound of continued sniper fire in the eastern town.
Two days after an uprising in the mostly Muslim Central Asian state's Ferghana Valley, wet blood and body parts hastily covered in soil coated the pavements, streets, and gutters in the centre of this city of 300,000 people.
Human rights campaigner Saidzhakhon Zainabitdinov estimated that up to 500 people might have been killed, which would make it the bloodiest incident in Uzbekistan's post-Soviet history.
From The Los Angeles Times:
Thousands of people fleeing a bloody crackdown against protests in an eastern Uzbek city gathered Saturday in a nearby border town where rioting erupted amid fears of another assault by government troops.
Police stations, tax offices, the prosecutor's office and the customs terminal were set ablaze in the town of Korasuv, on the border of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported. About 5,000 people had fled there Saturday from Andijon, 30 miles to the west, it said. Hundreds more fled to at least one other border-crossing site.
The violence in Korasuv was apparently triggered, at least in part, by anger that the border had been officially closed. Many residents have relatives on the other side, and some people fleeing Andijon were determined to escape from Uzbekistan.
Uzbek troops and police in Andijon fired into crowds of thousands of protesters Friday, which included armed militants and unarmed civilians. Human rights activists in Andijon put the death toll there at 300 to 500. This morning, a doctor told Associated Press that she had seen about 500 corpses laid out at a school guarded by soldiers.
From The Observer:
The violence that has reportedly killed hundreds of protesters in eastern Uzbekistan appeared to be spreading to neighbouring towns last night, raising fears that the volatile Central Asian state could erupt into a full-scale revolution.
As human rights workers in the flashpoint town of Andijan warned that the death toll there could reach 500, an official from the neighbouring country of Kyrgyzstan said sporadic rioting had broken out in the border town of Karasu, with government buildings and police cars on fire and military helicopters circling overhead.
From The New York Times:
The unrest and violence have tested Mr. Karimov, a former Communist Party official who has ruled Central Asia's most populated republic with an iron grip since the Soviet Union disintegrated.
As journalists in the region reported that hundreds and perhaps thousands of Uzbeks moved toward and across the Kyrgyz border, at risk was the stability of the heart of Central Asia, already buffeted by an underdeveloped economy, ecological decline, a resurgence of Islam, a recent revolution in Kyrgyzstan and the conflicting pulls of China, Russia and the United States.
Mr. Karimov, an inaccessible and aloof autocrat, has long been criticized for persecution of opponents, intolerance of freedom of religion and expression, and the use of the police and torture, including the sexual assault and boiling of suspects.
His control had been almost absolute. He was last re-elected in 2000, with 91.7 percent of the vote, an election generally regarded as fixed.
His style has also fueled worries about the government's conduct. The reported violence over the past three days, emerging from a near information vacuum, has been chilling in part because Mr. Karimov has long made clear that in maintaining order, he has a high tolerance for blood.
"I am prepared to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, in order to save peace and calm in the republic," he told reporters in 1999, after a bus hijacking ended with a shootout that left nine people dead. "If my child chose such a path, I myself would rip off his head."
Mr. Karimov also has strengthened his relationship with the United States, as the interests of two nations have increasingly intertwined.
Hardened elements of his opposition, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, collaborated with Al Qaeda and trained in camps in Afghanistan. After the attacks in the United States in 2001, the Karimov government presented itself as a Bush administration partner in counterterrorism efforts, and the Pentagon opened a base in southern Uzbekistan.
From The Independent:
Reports of mass shootings by Uzbek government troops of protesters in the east of the country, killing several hundred, ought to have drawn instant, sharp condemnation from around the world. No number of excuses about the need to be tough on so-called Islamists can justify a bloodbath, especially as the protesters were mostly unarmed civilians.
From Muslim Uzbekistan:
Hundreds of people who fled the bloodshed in Andijan to seek refuge in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan have been telling stories of coming under renewed gunfire as they tried to escape from Uzbekistan.
IWPR spoke to would-be refugees who had been desperate enough to push their way past Uzbekistan's rigorously-controlled frontier defences on May 14. Some were reportedly killed by their own country's border guards.
The fleeing civilians were not allowed to enter Kyrgyz territory after the government there ordered the border to be closed. But they were allowed to wait nearby, on the strip of neutral land that separates the two countries, and apparently beyond the reach of the Uzbek security forces.
"We can't return to our city, because death inevitably awaits us there," said a young man from Andijan who gave his name only as Kamil. "Kyrgyzstan must save us. If we return to our own country, our days will be numbered.
"The Kyrgyz authorities have treated us peacefully, and your soldiers are protecting us."
Another from Muslim Uzbekistan:
Heated criticism was growing last night over 'double standards' by Washington over human rights, democracy and 'freedom' as fresh evidence emerged of just how brutally Uzbekistan, a US ally in the 'war on terror', put down Friday's unrest in the east of the country.
Outrage among human rights groups followed claims by the White House on Friday that appeared designed to justify the violence of the regime of President Islam Karimov, claiming - as Karimov has - that 'terrorist groups' may have been involved in the uprising.
Critics said the US was prepared to support pro-democracy unrest in some states, but condemn it in others where such policies were inconvenient.
From Voice of America:
Russia has sided with Mr. Karimov, blaming Islamic extremists for attempting to create instability.
Vladimir Vasilyev, who heads the Security Committee in Russia's parliament, says Russia has been monitoring the situation closely because of concern about how events may develop, and will decide what to do depending on that.
Human-rights groups have long criticized Mr. Karimov's regime for abuses, including torture of prisoners and illegal detentions. They blame poverty and repressive policies for the situation, saying Uzbekistan is ripe for more unrest.
American soldiers have been based at an airport in southern Uzbekistan since 2001, but this is far from the scene of the unrest.
The Russian foreign minister said foreign radical forces, particularly Talibs, were behind uprising in Uzbekistan. Sergei Lavrov said Russia was still analyzing reports coming from Uzbekistan, and did not have a full picture yet. "I do not think any country will tolerate foreign forces seizing arms depots, staging violence, raiding administrative buildings, and taking hostages on its territory," Lavrov told a news conference in Vienna. Lavrov said every country with self-respect must take measures to exercise its right to self-protection. A group of gunmen seized administrative buildings and a prison in Andijan, a large city in eastern Uzbekistan, on Thursday night, while thousands of protesters filled the central square the next day, demanding the president and the government step down. The central government sent troops into the city and the uprising was suppressed.