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Hundreds Dead in Uzbek Uprising

FERGANA, Uzbekistan — About 500 bodies have been laid out in rows at a school in the eastern Uzbek city where troops fired on protesters to put down an uprising, a doctor in the town said Sunday, corroborating witness accounts of hundreds killed in the fighting.

Relatives were arriving at School No. 15 to identify the dead, said the doctor, who spoke by telephone on condition of anonymity. Another 2,000 people were wounded in the clashes Friday, said the doctor, who is widely regarded as knowledgeable about local affairs. It was unclear how she arrived at her estimate.

The government has given no clear casualty figures. President Islam Karimov said Saturday that 10 government soldiers and "many more" protesters died and at least 100 people were wounded. He did not say who fired first.

On Sunday, there were no more protesters at the square that was the center of violence, the doctor said. Andijan officials were trying to reach a nearby airport to escape the unrest, she said, while some organizers of the uprising were trying to flee to nearby Kyrgyzstan.

Another Andijan resident reached by telephone said the city was largely quiet overnight.

But villagers in the border town of Teshektosh said several troops were killed in a skirmish between armed men and government forces early Sunday. Their account could not be verified, but blood could be seen on the pavement.

As residents of Andijan, Uzbekistan's fourth-largest city, cleaned the streets of blood and identified the dead, witnesses relayed grim scenes.

Abdugapur Dadaboyev, an Uzbek rights activist who visited Andijan on Saturday, said he saw dead bodies in police and military uniforms lying in the streets as of late evening.

Civilians' bodies, in contrast, were quickly removed from the streets, he said.

Channel One state television showed footage of uniformed men with rifles slung over their shoulders carrying a corpse toward a truck, and of a dead man lying face-down on a street, his head thrust between the bars of a fence and his legs still straddling an old bicycle. It said the video was shot Saturday.

Karimov blamed Islamic extremists for the uprising in which protesters stormed a prison, freed inmates and then seized local government offices before government troops put the protest down with force.

The violence was Uzbekistan's worst since gaining independence following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Karimov accused a faction of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a banned movement seeking to create an Islamic state in Central Asia, of orchestrating the uprising. Hizb-ut-Tahrir has long been targeted by the Uzbek regime — a campaign that has been one of human rights activists' top grievances against the authoritarian government.

The 23 businessmen who were the focus of the protest were jailed on charges of membership in a group allegedly allied with Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Loshchinin said that radical Islamists most likely organized the mass protests, but he also blamed the situation on the "weakness of the authorities."

"All this, taking into account the population's dissatisfaction with their standard of living, means the situation is explosive," he said Saturday, urging measures to bring the situation under control.

Karimov briefed Putin by telephone Saturday on how the situation was unfolding in Andijan, the Kremlin said.

"Both sides expressed concern about the danger of the destabilization of the situation in the Central Asian region," the Kremlin said in a statement.

The United States has declined comment on the unrest. The situation presents a quandary for Washington because Karimov is considered a key ally in its struggle against terrorism and the United States maintains a military base in Uzbekistan to support anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan.

Following the day of violence in Andijan, some 5,000 angry protesters swarmed the streets of the town of Korasuv on the border with Kyrgyzstan on Saturday, looting and burning official buildings, torching police cars and assaulting local officials.

Participants in the protest accused the government of failing to improve living conditions. The town that straddles the river border was split in two following the 1991 Soviet collapse, and two years ago Uzbek officials dismantled a bridge as part of their effort to impose new restrictions on traders.

The move has vexed Korasuv residents, who depended on a big market on the Kyrgyz side of the border to earn their living. Many people have drowned while trying to cross the river using ropes.

Korasuv residents quickly rebuilt the metal bridge, and scores of jubilant traders flooded to the market on Sunday.

Sunday's skirmish in Teshektosh killed eight government troops, one villager said, declining to give his name. Residents said the armed men fled to Kyrgyzstan.

At another section of the border, some 6,000 Uzbeks sought to cross to Kyrgyzstan to get shelter following the violence in Andijan. About 500 were gathered on Kyrgyz territory just across the border, and Kyrgyz authorities and international relief groups were considering efforts to help them, said Almambet Matubraimov, the Kyrgyz presidential envoy to the border region.

(The Moscow Times 16.v.05)

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