Uzbek official claims lower death toll

Uzbekistan's top prosecutor says 169 people were killed in violence in the eastern town of Andijan, but an opposition leader has said the real figure is much higher.

    Shootings are said to be going on in Andijan in eastern Uzbekistan

    Prosecutor-General Rashid Kadyrov's estimate was far below the more than 500 cited earlier in the day by an opposition political party that has been polling alleged victims' relatives.


    Kadyrov said on Tuesday that 32 of those who died were government troops and indicated that the others were insurgents.


    "Only terrorists were liquidated by government forces," he told a news conference, with President Islam Karimov at his side - again contradicting the accounts of witnesses to last Friday's violence.


    Meanwhile, Aljazeera has reported that shootings are still going on in Andijan amid reports that the death toll has crossed the 700 figure.


    Clashing estimates


    Karimov had told a news conference on Saturday that 10 soldiers and "many more" insurgents had been killed. He did not say anything about civilian deaths.


    However, an Uzbek opposition leader said on Tuesday her party has compiled a list of 745 people killed by government troops in Uzbekistan.


    Uzbek special forces patrolling
    Andijan's streets on Tuesday

    Nigara Khidoyatova, the head of the Free Peasants Party, said that 542 people had been killed in Andijan and 203 people in Pakhtabad, another city in the Fergana Valley.


    Khidoyatova said her party had arrived at the figure by speaking to relatives of those killed, and the count was continuing.


    "Soldiers were roaming the streets and shooting at innocent civilians," Khidoyatova said. "Many victims were shot in the back of the head."


    Khidoyatova said her party's representatives had talked to victims' relatives and attended the victims' funerals.


    "The count hasn't yet finished, and the death toll will rise," she said.


    The crackdown in Andijan came on Friday after protesters stormed a prison, freed inmates and then seized local government offices. But many of the demonstrators were citizens complaining about poverty and unemployment.


    Open fire


    On Tuesday Aljazeera reported that dozens of Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami supporters tried to break into the Uzbek embassy in London and denounced what they called the bloodletting in that country.


    Karimov's government has denied firing on demonstrators and blamed the violence on Muslim insurgents. However, an AP reporter and other journalists witnessed troops opening fire on the crowd at Andijan's central square.


    "Once the funerals are over, they aren't going to let it go unpunished and will take revenge. They are boiling with anger"

    Nigara Khidoyatova,
    Free Peasants Party leader

    "Relatives of the victims are in shock, and they can't understand why their close ones were killed," Khidoyatova said. "Once the funerals are over, they aren't going to let it go unpunished and will take revenge. They are boiling with anger."


    In one example, Khidoyatova said her party's members had attended the funeral of Sardor Khasanov, an 18-year-old resident of Andijan who walked out to buy a loaf of bread and was killed with a bullet to the back of his head.


    In Pakhtabad, virtually all the victims were women and children apparently trying to flee violence by escaping into neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, Khidoyatova said. "They were refugees trying to escape."


    Khidoyatova said that explosions of anger after the massacre would soon spread to other cities in the volatile, densely-populated Fergana Valley, and eventually topple Karimov's government.


    "It's the beginning of the end of Karimov's regime," she said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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