Dozens dead in Kyrgyzstan clashes

Thousands flee homes in southern region as ethnic unrest leaves more than 600 wounded.


    Robin Forestier-Walker reports from southern city of Osh on violence between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz

    "A state of emergency has been declared in Osh and these districts from June 11 until June 20."

    Witnesses said fighting broke out between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek groups in Osh, a stronghold of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the president who was overthrown by a popular revolt in April.

    Uzbek exodus

    A health ministry spokeswoman said that different injuries, including bullet wounds, had been reported.

    "About a thousand youths armed with batons and stones gathered Thursday evening in the centre of Osh," Azamat Ussmanov, a resident of Osh, said.

    "They broke shop windows and the windows of residential buildings, burned cars. Several fires also broke out in the town."

    IN DEPTH

     

      Profile: Roza Otunbayeva
      Interview: Kurmanbek Bakiyev
      Inside Story:
      Russia's growing influence
      Behind Kyrgyzstan's unrest
     

    Videos:

      Calm eludes post-revolt Kyrgyzstan
      Ousted Kyrgyz leader seeks UN help

    Al Jazeera's Robin Forestier-Walker, speaking from outside the city of Osh, said thousands of ethnic Uzbeks, mostly women and children, are fleeing their homes on Saturday, in an attempt to cross the border into Uzbekistan.

    "Behind them, I can see the city of Osh with a huge [plume] of smoke above it. In front of us, we have the border and guards doing their best to try to stop people. But the people are absolutely desperate."

    He said earlier that many local residents expect worse violence to come.

    "The interim government [led by Roza Otunbayeva] said that this was a planned, orchestrated event.

    "There are rumours that it began as a skirmish between two groups of men at a casino, but what is strange about it is that it suddenly exploded into something different, with hundreds of men burning cars and properties. It has a very inter-ethnic dimension to it."

    Kyrgyzstan, which won independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, has been in turmoil since the revolt that toppled Bakiyev.

    Ethnic rivalries

    Political tensions between the agricultural south and the north of Kyrgyzstan exist alongside ethnic and clan rivalries.

    Bakiyev's supporters briefly seized government buildings in the south on May 13, defying central authorities in the capital, Bishkek.

    Two people were killed and 74 were wounded on May 19 in clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the city of Jalalabad. On the same day, Otunbayeva said she would rule the country until 2011, scrapping earlier plans for presidential polls in October.

    Jalalabad has also been the scene of fierce clashes between supporters of the interim government and those of Bakiyev, who is in exile in Belarus.

    Of Kyrgyzstan's 5.3 million population, ethnic Kyrgyz make up 69.6 per cent, Uzbeks 14.5 per cent and Russians 8.4 per cent.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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