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Authorities in Uzbekistan Allowed Foreign Diplomats to Tour the Town of Andijan

Authorities in Uzbekistan allowed a group of foreign diplomats and journalists to tour the town of Andijan where violence last week left hundreds of people dead. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department, the United Nations and British foreign secretary have called for an internationally backed investigation into the deadly clashes in Andijan.

A group of foreign journalists and diplomats were flown (Wednesday) into Andijan to see the area affected by violence lastFriday and Saturday. Uzbek authorities wanted to show that reports of 700 civilian deaths were exaggerated. Uzbek President Islam Karimov maintains that 169 people were killed in clashes between Uzbek soldiers and, in his words, Islamic extremists.

The two-hour visit provided few answers. Several diplomats complained that they were not allowed to roam freely and were introduced only to residents who backed the official version of events.

Numerous eyewitnesses to last week's bloodshed have said Uzbek soldiers arrived in military vehicles and began shooting into a crowd. Doctors later reported seeing hundreds of bodies laid out for relatives to identify.

U.S. State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher has called for an internationally backed investigation. He says, "It's becoming apparent that very large numbers of civilians were killed by the indiscriminate use of force by Uzbek forces."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, and British foreign secretary Jack Straw also called for an independent international probe.

He says, "We want to get to the bottom of what has happened in respect to these killings in Andijan and other areas. The only way to do that now given the confusion and the lack of access is to ensure that there is independent international inquiry."

Meanwhile, in Washington a small group of Uzbeks gathered in front the Embassy of Uzbekistan to protest the violence in their country.

Mashrab Muradov says he escaped from Uzbekistan two years ago and is now a refugee in the U.S. He says, "Basically people was asking for basic needs, for food, for freedom, but this killing, is not going to be excuse never for Karimov, for killing his own people, he is not the president."

Some are urging Washington to take an even stronger stance on Uzbekistan, which is a key U.S. ally on the war on Terror in Central Asia.