‘Several hundred’ people dead in Kyrgyzstan unrest

RIOTING has killed several hundred people in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, the Red Cross said yesterday, as new reports strengthened suspicions that the violence was deliberately ignited to undermine the interim government.

The southern part of the impoverished Central Asian nation has been convulsed by days of rioting targeting minority Uzbeks, which has left the country’s second-largest city, Osh, in smouldering ruins and sent over 100,000 Uzbeks fleeing for their lives to neighbouring Uzbekistan.

The International Committee of the Red Cross had no precise figure of the dead, but spokesman Christian Cardon said “we are talking about several hundreds”. That figure is significantly higher than the current official estimate.

Uzbekistan closed the border yesterday, leaving many camped out on the Kyrgyz side or stranded behind barbed-wire fences in no-man’s land.

Kyrgyzstan’s interim government, which took over when former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in an April uprising, has accused Bakiyev’s family of instigating the violence to halt a June 27 referendum on a new constitution. Uzbeks have mostly backed the interim government, while many Kyrgyz in the south have supported Bakiyev. From self-imposed exile in Belarus, Bakiyev has denied any ties to the violence.

Interim President Roza Otunbayeva insisted again yesterday that Bakiyev supporters stoked the conflict.

“Many instigators have been detained and they are giving evidence on Bakiyev’s involvement in the events. No one has doubts that he is involved,” she said.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters in Geneva there was evidence the violence was coordinated and began with five simultaneous attacks in Osh by men wearing ski masks. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also said the fighting “appears to be orchestrated, targeted and well-planned” and urged authorities to act before it spread further.

Kyrgyz deputy security chief Kubat Baibalov said that a trained group of men from neighbouring Tajikistan drove around in a car with tinted windows opening fire on both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Osh last week to spark violence between the two groups.

“They were employed by people close to the Bakiyev family who have been expelled from power,” Baibalov said. He gave no further details.

The government said earlier that suspects from Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan had been detained and told authorities they were hired by Bakiyev supporters to start the rioting.

Bakiyev’s younger son, Maxim, was arrested on Monday in Britain, Kyrgyz security chief Kenishbek Duishebayev said. Prosecutors allege that companies he owned avoided almost $80 million (€64.9m) in taxes on aviation fuel sold to suppliers of the US air base near the capital of Bishkek. Bakiyev’s regime faced widespread allegations of corruption.

The United Nations and the European Union, meanwhile, urged Kyrgyzstan not to let the ethnic violence derail a June 27 constitutional referendum and parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

Up to 200,000 people have fled violence within Kyrgyzstan since last Thursday, UN refugee agency spokesman Andrej Mahecic said in Geneva.

At a Nariman hospital, dozens of wounded Uzbeks lay in corridors and broken beds.

Many at the hospital, which was out of medical supplies for a sixth day, claim the rampages had been premeditated.

“Well-armed people who were obviously well prepared for this conflict were shooting at us,” said Teymurat Yuldashev, 26, who had bullet wounds in his arm and chest of different calibre.

Deadly rampages in the country’s south began late last Thursday, as mobs of ethnic Kyrgyz torched homes and businesses of ethnic Uzbeks.

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