Deadly clashes shake Uzbek capital

Clashes have erupted between police and suspected fighters in the Uzbek capital, leaving at least 21 people dead after several explosions shook the city.

    The central Asian state is home to US military bases

    Uzbek forces stormed a suspected hideout in Tashkent near the president's residence on Tuesday, killing 16 people.


    Some had been shot by police but others killed themselves with grenades, said a National Security Service officer, who refused to give his name.

    In the northern neighbourhood of Yalangach, police stopped a small car and two alleged fighters jumped out and detonated explosive-laden belts, killing themselves and three police officers and injuring five more policemen.

     

    There were reports of explosions and shooting in the capital throughout the day.

     

    Blasts and a gun battle rattled Tashkent, the day after a string of bomb blasts killed 19 people on the US ally's territory.

    The general prosecutor's spokeswoman, Svetlana Artykova, offered only a vague explanation for the explosions on Tuesday.

    "The only thing I can officially say is that the process of apprehending the terrorists [is underway] and, naturally, they are putting up some resistance," she said.

    Russian news agency Itar-Tass, quoting unnamed police sources in Tashkent, said some people had been wounded in the incident involving police and "terrorists" 15km outside the city.

    Residents of Tashkent clear
    away the debris after the blasts

    Uzbek officials could not immediately be reached to confirm the report, but a witness heard blasts followed by gunfire.

    Civilians had been woken by truck horns and police whistles as military units and police were deployed overnight.
     
    By morning, the city's main thoroughfares were blocked by checkpoints manned by servicemen in bulletproof vests and carrying Kalashnikovs.
     
    Deadly blasts

    On Monday several explosions in Tashkent and the ancient city of Bukhara killed 19 people. Two of the blasts were caused by women detonating explosives. Uzbek officials have blamed Islamist groups.

    The government of the ex-Soviet state provided an airbase for US operations in Afghanistan in 2002 and has cracked down on alleged Islamists on its own soil, but drew criticism from the United Nations for the "systematic" use of torture.
     
    Last month, a Tashkent court freed a 62-year-old woman who had been jailed after complaining that her son, arrested as a member of a banned Islamist group, had been tortured to death.

    In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the US stood firmly behind its central Asian ally despite condemnation by human rights groups.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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