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Thousands of Uzbeks flee ethnic riots in Kyrgyzstan
Monday, June 14, 2010 10:22:00 AM, Agencies
Ethnic Uzbeks gather near the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border in southern Kyrgyzstan, on Saturday, June 12, 2010, to seek refuge in Uzbekistan from mobs of Kyrgyz men attacking the minority Uzbek community
(Photo: Associated Press)
OSH (Kyrgyzstan): Mobs of rioters slaughtered Uzbeks and burned their homes and businesses in Kyrgyzstan's worst ethnic violence in decades, sending thousands members of the ethnic minority fleeing the country in attacks that appeared aimed at undermining the Central Asian nation's interim government.
As the country's interim government struggled to stem the worst ethnic violence since the collapse of the Soviet Union, up to 80,000 ethnic Uzbeks - mostly women and children - were reported to have crossed the border into neighbouring Uzbekistan.
Most were being housed in hastily-set up camps along the border.
On Sunday Kyrgyz authorities sent five planes of soldiers from the capital Bishkek to Jalal'abad, where the worst of the fighting appeared to be centred.
The defence ministry also mobilised all army reservists age 18 to 50 to quell the fighting between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz which has raged for more than three days.
More than 100 people were killed in southern Kyrgyzstan and more than 1,200 wounded in days of attacks, according to government estimates on Sunday. However, doctors and rights workers have warned the real number of casualties may be much higher because ethnic Uzbeks were too afraid to seek hospital treatment.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said its delegates witnessed about 100 bodies being buried in just one cemetery, and noted that the official toll is unlikely to include bodies still lying in the streets.
Fires set by rioters raged across Osh, the second-largest city in Kyrgyzstan, as triumphant crowds of ethnic-majority Kyrgyz men took control. Police or military troops were nowhere to be seen in the city of 250,000, where food was scarce after widespread looting and the few Uzbeks still left barricaded themselves in their neighborhoods.
The rampages spread quickly to Jalal-Abad, another major southern city 45 miles (70 kilometers) from Osh, and its neighboring villages, as mobs methodically set Uzbek houses, stores and cafes on fire. Rioters seized an armored vehicle and automatic weapons at a local military unit and attacked police stations around the region trying to get more firearms.
Some refugees were fired on as they fled to Uzbekistan. They were mostly elderly people, women and children, with younger men staying behind to defend their property.
'Russia sends troops'
Russia sent hundreds of paratroopers to Kyrgyzstan on Sunday to protect its military facilities in the north, the Russian Interfax news agency reported.
"The mission of the force that has landed is to reinforce the defence of Russian military facilities and ensure security of Russian military servicemen and their families," a Russian military source was quoted as saying.
The interim government has sought Russia's help to quell the violence, but the Russian government has declined the request to send military assistance.
The south of the ex-Soviet republic used to be the stronghold of the deposed president.
The country is currently led by a coalition of rival politicians that coalesced earlier this year in opposition to Bakiyev, who was deposed after anti-government protests resulted in deadly clashes.
Interim authorities had planned to hold a referendum to approve a new constitution on June 27, but the likelihood of that vote taking place looks increasingly slim.
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