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Uneasy Calm in Uzbekistan After up to 500 Killed in Clashes


Uzbek police officers stand guard at a check point in the surburbs of the Uzbek capital Tashkent

The eastern Uzbek city of Andijon is mostly quiet Sunday after two days of violence between soldiers and anti-government demonstrators that reportedly left as many as 500 people dead.

Uzbek military forces have sealed off part of the city located in the volatile Ferghana Valley where soldiers opened fire on demonstrators two days earlier.

Witnesses say many people stayed home while others were searching for bodies or burying their dead.

The clashes caused thousand of people to flee from Andijon toward neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Uzbeks angered by the slaughter in Andijon burned police cars and seized control of official buildings Saturday in several towns in the area.

The violence started late Thursday night, when rebels stormed a prison to free 23 Islamic businessmen accused of religious extremism. Early Friday, thousand of people converged on Andijon's main square and the rally quickly turned into an anti-government demonstration.

Hours later, the troops moved against the crowd. Witnesses say the soldiers fired indiscriminately on unarmed protesters, but Uzbek President Islam Karimov says no such order was given. He blames Friday's bloodshed on an outlawed Islamist militant group, Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Members of the militant group denied any role in the unrest, saying Uzbekistan's stagnant economy and the Karimov government's repressive practices set the stage for last week's mass demonstrations.

Some of this information provided by AP and Reuters.