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Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan Border Closed After Reported Gunfight

The border between the Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan has been closed amid indications of shooting and explosions on the Uzbek side.

Kyrgyz officials say Uzbekistan has closed its border with Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz and Russian media are also reporting gunfire on the Uzbek side of the frontier and the deputy chief of the Kyrgyz Border Patrol, Colonel Cholponbek Turuzbekov, told VOA there were two explosions in the town of Khanabad.

Turuzbekov says the blasts occurred at about 2 in the morning Tuesday near the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. He says the developments prompted Uzbek forces along the border to step up security, which involves tighter control of vehicular and pedestrian traffic in both directions. Turuzbekov notes only known residents of local border enclaves have been allowed to cross.

The official says initial reports to the Border Patrol indicate the explosions resulted in injuries, but no fatalities. He characterizes the situation as relatively stable, but says Kyrgyzstan increased security measures along its southern border at noon on Tuesday. Turuzbekov says he is not aware of any increased troop presence or armored vehicles on the Uzbek side. However, some news reports quote local residents as saying tanks have appeared in the streets of Khanabad.

The violence is the latest being reported from Central Asia's Fergana Valley, an ethnically diverse region that was divided during the Soviet era among Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Ethnic tensions erupted in the valley in the final years of the USSR. Four years ago, a protest against the Uzbek government in the city of Andijan resulted in a massacre. Uzbek authorities say 187 people were killed, but international human rights groups put the death toll much higher, and blame the authoritarian government of President Islam Karimov of indiscriminately shooting protesters.