Accessibility links

Breaking News

Kyrgyz Leaders Call for Calm Amid Renewed Bloodshed

Kyrgyz soldiers on an armored vehicle drive past a group of people in Osh on 11 Jun 2010
Kyrgyz soldiers on an armored vehicle drive past a group of people in Osh on 11 Jun 2010

New clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan have killed dozens of people and wounded more than 500 in the city of Osh, a little over two months after the uprising that toppled the Central Asian nation's former government. The United States and Russia - both of which have military bases in Kyrgyzstan - and China are watching the situation with concern.

Angry crowds attack shops and torch cars, while men battle in the streets with guns and improvised weapons in Kyrgyzstan's second largest city, Osh.

Authorities in Osh, a city of several hundred thousand people that is home to many ethnic Uzbeks, say two days of violence have killed scores of people. More than 500 have been injured, many of them wounded by gunshots or slashed with knives.

Kyrgyzstan's interim government has declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew on Osh. Troops in armored vehicles are keeping order in the city, which was once the power base of Kyrgyzstan's ex-president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

Unrest over widespread corruption and alleged abuse of power fueled a wave of nationwide protests in early April that toppled Mr. Bakiyev and forced him and his family to flee to Belarus.

This week's bloodshed is the worst since the uprising two months ago, in which 85 people died.

Kyrgyzstan's interim leader, Roza Otunbayeva, is blaming forces opposed to her government for this week's outbreak. She contends opposition elements fueled ethnic tensions between the country's Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities in an effort to disrupt an upcoming referendum on limiting presidential powers.

Ethnic Uzbeks make up about one-seventh of Kyrgyzstan's population, but are near a majority in Osh province, which borders Uzbekistan.

Ms. Otunbayeva has called for calm. Here she is speaking through an interpreter on Russia Today television:

"The situation when various forces are trying to stoke old flames is of great concern to us. Their aim is to destabilize the situation in the republic ahead of the upcoming referendum. They seek to cancel the vote," she said. "They are against government policies and they are trying to push the confrontation to the level of inter-ethnic relations, which are the most vulnerable. We have sent additional troops to stabilize the situation in Osh. We have called on locals to remain calm," said Otunbayeva.

The United States, which has a large air base outside the Kyrgyz capital, and other members of the international community are concerned about the developments. From the U.S. base near Bishkek, Major Rickardo Bodden explains the facility's importance to the international security force fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"We are the last stop for people going to Afghanistan. We are the first stop where people are coming out of Afghanistan, to go back [to the United States] or to their respective bases," said Bodden.

In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek says American officials are in close contact with the Kyrgyz government and are urging all sides to resolve their differences peacefully.

Russia, which has its own military base in Kyrgyzstan, and China also are calling for calm. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev was at a summit of regional leaders on Friday in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

He says Russia and the other countries in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization support Kyrgyzstan and they have already discussed how they can provide further assistance. The Russian leader says he hopes to see a stable administration in Bishkek based on the rule of law, and he promised to send observers to monitor the Kyrgyz referendum on June 27.

Analysts say ending the latest violence could be a crucial test for the new government's ability to control the troubled country.

Ms. Otunbayeva has pledged to hold democratic, parliamentary elections in October.