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11 Jun, 2010 15:30

Kyrgyzstan requests Russia’s assistance due to ongoing violence

The Kyrgyz interim government has asked Russia to send peacekeeping forces to help quell the unrest in the south of the country. Ethnic clashes in the city of Osh have now left more than 60 dead and hundreds wounded.

Out of more than 800 who have asked for medical assistance, approximately 50 are in a grave condition.

“The situation is spinning out of control. We need foreign military help and we have asked Russia to send it. We must do our utmost to save people's lives. There are reports that armaments and weapons have fallen into the hands of raging gangs in Osh. The security forces in the capital Bishkek are on high alert following the events of yesterday, when mobs demanded guns and buses to go to the south,” head of the interim government Roza Otunbayeva said.

The country’s authorities have dispatched troops to the troubled area in an effort to bring the situation under control.

“The situation remains tense. Army and police are unable to control the city. It's in chaos,” independent journalist Pavel Gromsky told RT on Saturday. “Residential districts populated by Uzbeks are being destroyed one by one. Women are being raped, people are being hanged, houses burnt, people are being killed indiscriminately, the city is being plundered. Shops, cafes, restaurants are being looted. The curfew is not helping – the ransacking continued all night long with street fighting. The city is on the verge of disaster – there is no electricity or gas, people can't buy food; the city has been cut off.”

The violence has now reached the capital city Bishkek, where police have dispersed a rally calling people to go to the city of Osh.They demanded the interim government provide them with weapons and transportation so they could help their compatriots in the troubled southern city

But their aim was purely peaceful, Ermek Mamyrkanov from a Kyrgyz “7th of April” youth movement that's been rallying people in the Kyrgyz capital, told RT.

“People in Bishkek are nervous, but there was no serious violence. And I don’t expect anything like that. We are preparing to go south to call for peace, to calm the situation down. It’s not ordinary people who spark violence, there are some forces involved. But we need to tackle the situation peacefully.”

The local Interior Ministry says they are doing all in their power to prevent further riots and maintain peace.

“We will prevent any illegal activities inside or outside the city. People are tired of all this unrest. People just need peace and calm,” the Ministry’s Head, Zarylbek Rysaliev said.

Violence broke out late Thursday evening when clashes erupted between Kyrgyz and Uzbek youths and quickly spread across the whole city.

Ravaging mobs have been looting and setting buildings on fire.

A curfew and a state of emergency were quickly imposed in Osh. Armored vehicles and security forces were sent in to patrol the streets.

The troops have been given permission to bear arms against the participants of the riots in case their actions endanger the lives of civilians.

However, Itar-Tass news agency reports that, according to witnesses, those measures have failed to stabilize the situation.

In a statement on a local TV channel, the mayor of Osh urged residents to remain calm. The city’s gas supply had been cut off to prevent possible fires and explosions.

Roza Otunbayeva said the disorder may have been masterminded to coincide with the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which is underway in neighbouring country Uzbekistan. Another theory she voiced is that the unrest was meant to undermine the upcoming national referendum on Kyrgyzstan’s new constitution.

“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. They are against government policies and they are trying to push the confrontation to the level of inter-ethnic relations, which are [at their] most vulnerable. This is done against the backdrop of the SCO summit, to stir up more international reaction. We have sent additional troops to stabilize the situation in Osh. We have called on locals to remain calm,” Roza Otunbayeva said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for calm in Kyrgyzstan.

“The Secretary-General reiterates the need to respect the rule of law and to resolve issues peacefully through dialogue,” Ki-moon’s spokesperson said.

Moscow has expressed its concern at the situation in Kyrgyzstan. Special presidential envoy Sergey Rushailo made the announcement at a news conference in the country's capital Bishkek.

He said helping people return to a normal life is Russia's top priority.

“Russia's main task is to help stabilize the current political situation in Kyrgyzstan, hold parliamentary elections and provide economic and social assistance to the Kyrgyz people,” Rushailo said.

“Violence will continue”

International human rights lawyer and former OSCE observer in Kyrgyzstan Andrew McEntee remembers that, back in 1990, several hundred died as a result of Kyrgyz-Uzbek tension.

“Today the situation clearly is different. For some people it's an opportunity for transition, while for others it's an opportunity for frustrating the transition. There is no doubt that political actors and security services actors at local and international level are pulling the strings behind the scene trying to steer this violence as a tool for their own opportunities,” McEntee told RT.

Erica Marat, an expert on security in the region at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute expects the violence to get worse.

“It will be a conflict very similar to the 1990’s one that left hundreds even thousands dead,” says Erica Marat. “Bakiev’s supporters have the biggest stake in the violence, they are the ones who are not interested in holding the referendum because it is a way for the provisional government to gain legitimacy – something they do not want”.

Marat argues that the recent violence was provoked by external forces.

“A group of young people clashed in a local bar and then rumors were spread across Osh about inter-ethnic violence. That really sparked anger and fear among local people, so the next morning after that incident we saw thousands of people getting out of the houses, being really anger against each another and basically that’s how the entire conflict, the entire clash began,” said Marat.

Unlike the violence back in April, this conflict was not directly political in nature, Marat believes. It is connected to previous issues only in the sense that it relates to policies of President Otunbayeva.

Marat said the conflict is not likely to influence Kyrgyz -US relations or have any effect on the debate over the US military base in Kyrgyzstan. The issues are unrelated and the current conflict is likely to remain domestic or possibly regional, as Russia could choose to get involved. Involvement by the United States however is highly unlikely. Marat does expect international organizations to be involved.

“I would expect organizations like OEC, or UN; even NATO might play a bigger role,” said Marat.

Deirdre Tynan, a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs, says the events in Osh are a big challenge to the interim government.

“It remains to be seen over the next 48 hours whether [the interim government has] the capacity, mostly political, to respond to this crisis in a way that can bring calm to the south,” she said.

Earlier, in May, two people died in Osh during violent clashes between supporters of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and backers of the new interim government.