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12 Jun, 2010 15:04

Emergency declared in 2nd Kyrgyz town, as crowd raids local military base

The Kyrgyz provisional government has declared a state of emergency in Jalal-Abad as inter-ethnic violence spreads. More than a hundred people have been killed and more than a thousand wounded in the fighting.

Just 40 hours after the first clashes hit Osh, another Southern Kyrgyz city is in disorder.

Ethnic groups are clashing in the streets of Jalal-Abad. A local military base has been raided by an angry crowd, which eventually got hold of an armoured vehicle, military uniforms and firearms.

Jalal-Abad’s Kyrgyz-Uzbek university has been set on fire. Also, the Pakistani Interior Ministry says that 15 Pakistani students have been taken hostage during the ethnic clashes and one has been killed.

“There is looting and things like that in the city, it is insane! Mass media cannot report anything objectively. Only one side is heard. There is crying and moaning from the wounded. But people are afraid to take them to the hospital, because they could get killed on the way. Police are siding with these robbers. They give them weapons. And they have so much ammunition, that the shooting doesn’t stop. It is genocide of ethnic minorities,” says Atabek, resident of Dzhalal-abad region.

Kyrgyzstan’s largest minority group, the Uzbeks, make up around 14 percent of the country’s population. They are mainly based in the south. Tension between Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz is not new – in 1990, deadly riots in Osh saw hundreds of people killed.

Neighboring Uzbekistan has opened up its border for refugees from violence-torn Kyrgyzstan. Seventy-five thousand people have already crossed the border.

Most of them are women, children and the elderly, some have sustained gunshot wounds.

Special places have been set up where they are given food, water and urgent medical attention.

While most Uzbeks are trying to flee the country, those who decided to stay are now praying for help. An Uzbek student in Kyrgyzstan, Rushana Batyrova says her town is on fire and violence there continues to rage.

"It started very abruptly – there's no food, no electricity, no gas. The Uzbek embassy here doesn't answer our calls and the hot line is not working. The Uzbeks are being shot at, the local population gives out weapons to the Kyrgyz and they shoot at us. Lots of Uzbeks fled to Uzbekistan, as there's no help. The official death toll is far less, in reality there are thousands of Uzbeks dead. Today there were two explosions of such force that our house virtually jumped. So, we sit here praying for help, especially from Russia, we won't be able to stop it without the help from outside. "

Earlier on Sunday, three Russian planes brought humanitarian aid to the region, as well as a paratroop battalion to reinforce a Russian military base located there.

After declaring a state of emergency, the Kyrgyz provisional government also allowed troops to fire live rounds at angry crowds and declared a mobilisation of military reservists and former police personnel from Sunday. The exact number of military personnel the Kyrgyz government will call to arms is not yet known. Officials say much will depend on how the security situation develops in the south.

“We’ve issued a decree for the partial mobilization – and on the use of live rounds – to protect the population,” spokesman for the Kyrgyz interim government, Farid Niyazov said. “Several groups and political parties have been calling on the interim government to take tougher measures to normalize the situation in the country. We analyzed the situation and reached these decisions. The number of people we will be calling to arms will depend on the scale of the issues that would need the use of military force.“

Who is to blame?

Kyrgyzstan's Deputy Prime Minister Temir Sariyev is convinced the unrest's been orchestrated by people linked to the ousted President Bakiyev.

“The weapons have been distributed on purpose, someone was preparing for it, it’s not a secret. And we didn't manage to prevent it. But I want to underline that the enemies we fight against are not easy. They've been building up power for 5 years; they've got plenty of money and people who've gone through special training. It's not the first attempt at provocation. Bakiyev is physically not present in the country, but his people are around and we've got proof they are behind some provocations,” Sariyev says.

Kuban Abder from the news agency CCS in the capital Bishkek has also pointed the finger of blame at ousted president Bakiyev.

“In April 2010, Kyrgyz President Bakiyev fled Kyrgyzstan after the April revolution and he took a lot of money with him. And now I guess he used this money to disturb the situation,” Kuban Abder said.

Meanwhile, Reinhard Krumm, head of the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation in Moscow, doubts it very much that ousted president Bakiyev is behind the current violence in Kyrgyzstan.

“The problem is that the first president after the [revolution] – Mr. Akayev, and then Mr. Bakiyev – didn’t really concentrate on the multi-ethnic population of Kyrgyzstan, and clearly we now see the result. There’s frustration, and there’s a certain distrust that the new government won’t cope with their problem. As you know, there will be a referendum soon and this is the problem,” Reinhard Krumm said.

Ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev has denied any involvement in the violence in the south of the country and has called for a stop to the bloodshed.

Kyrgyz opposition leader Yaroslav Neyazov claims it's the interim government that's responsible for the situation escalating.

“After the April uprising the political situation got worse. The interim government was supposed to stabilize it. But they started preparing a new constitution – the eighth since independence. They got carried away with constitutional reform, and forgot that political change can only occur when the situation is stable and people trust the authorities. They created neither political stability, nor internal security. What's happening now is the result of these bad policies,” Neyazov says.

Political analyst Irina Kobrinskaya from the Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow believes not only the interim government who are to blame, as the whole conflict roots from tsarist times.

“This is a conflict of a very complex nature. It has an ethnic and social-economic nature. And to this, of course, comes the political struggle. There are also rumours about the provocation on the part of the former government of Bakiyev. The situation is really very complicated,” Irina Kobrinskaya said.

Political analyst Mars Sariev from Bishkek says that although there are socio-economic and historical grounds for clashes between the Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks, the recent violence is being directed from abroad.

“These ethnic clashes with such a high number of casualties will certainly affect relations between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and could probably destabilize the situation in the whole of Central Asia. Of course, there were socio-economic and even historic reasons for such tension between the two peoples, but I think the conflict has been provoked and now is being thoroughly directed by forces from outside,” he said.

“I think Bakiyev's people might be behind it. By using militants they cause clashes between the two peoples. It is a deliberate provocation to make the Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks fight each other. The conflict has entered such a stage that the Kyrgyz authorities are barely able to solve it on their own and bringing in the peacekeepers is almost unavoidable. But on the other hand, if those peacekeepers are from Russia, it could be like the Afghan situation, where they could be perceived as occupying forces. Therefore the situation is very complicated with virtually no easy solution.”

Sergey Strokan from newspaper Kommersant says this violence comes as a dramatic follow-up to the April events when angry crowds toppled the regime of ex-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

“Regrettably enough, during these last two months no coherent development strategy was proposed, no new charismatic leader emerged, no reliable democratic mechanisms were worked out. As a result of this, we witness chaos and the situation where rival clans are fighting with each other, sticking to the principle ‘might is right’,” Strokan said.

Anna Nelson from the International Red Cross told RT that the violence in Osh is escalating fast.

“The latest information from my colleagues in Osh is that situation is getting worse by the hour,” Nelson said.

Azhdar Kurtov from Russia's Institute for Strategic Studies says the provisional government can no longer control the situation without help.

“They don’t have people’s trust because no elections have been held; no one chose them. Naturally, some Kyrgyz don’t see them as a fully-fledged government. This could be why the army and law enforcers are less obedient. I think that without foreign interference things will only get worse. It’s clear that no calls for calm are going to work. When there’s an ethnic conflict, when both Kyrgyz and Uzbek blood is spilling, it’s necessary to forcibly separate the conflicting sides,” Kurtov says.

Post-Soviet states expert Leonid Gusev says there are several reasons why the ousted president could be behind the ethnic clashes.

“First, the actions of Bakiyev himself; Second, ethnic tension among the Kyrgyz and Uzbek populations has always been rather high, but now it has reached boiling point. Bakiyev thinks that if he's deported from the country, the people of Kyrgyzstan should reap the fruits of that – whether it's instability, explosions or unrest. Bakiyev has strong links with crime groups and clans and will resort to any actions. The interim government is rather weak. It doesn't feel that it's ligitimate. They rose to power after a coup. That's why Otumbayeva is turning to Russia for help. She believes that Russia will help stabilise the situation,” Gusev told RT.

Aleksandr Knyazev, from the regional branch of the CIS Institute is sure the clashes were organised by the deposed president.

“I have no doubt that it's organised by Bakiyev and his supporters. Ever since he was overthrown, in every public speech, he's hinted that ethnic clashes could start. There was no conflict in April. Mostly Kyrgyz were involved in later events, and there was no sign of ethnic issues. The protests were first started by Bakiyev’s supporters, but now I believe it’s been taken over by bandits, both Kyrgyz and Uzbek,” Knyazev told RT.

Editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, Fyodor Lukyanov also believes, followers of the ex-president are likely to be behind the chaos.

“Unfortunately we see the worst-case scenario in Kyrgyzstan. I don’t know if former president Bakiev is personally behind this but it’s no doubt that a lot of people who identify themselves as his supporters are staging this. And unfortunately the interim government doesn’t seem to be able to stabilize the situation so there is a really urgent need for intervention from the outside, practically from Russia.”

Meanwhile, Nurlan Kyshtobaev, who is originally from Kyrgyzstan but currently lives in Moscow, believes that a sporadic row between two groups of young people was taken advantage of to escalate violence.

“Kyrgyz people and Uzbek people and many other nationalities have been living in Kyrgyzstan for centuries and of course there were some problems between them, but not to that extent to clash with each other. The recent events took place in a matter of one night. It started at a casino where two groups of young people had a terrible row,” he says. “I think some forces, maybe from outside, just took chance of it and are using this situation to clash two peoples.”

“Everybody’s pinning their hopes on Russian troops”

RT has been speaking to eyewitnesses about the ongoing violence in the city of Osh. They say the situation is still not under control.

“There’ve been shootouts. Riot police have reportedly arrived to disperse gangs that are setting houses on fire and attacking ethnic Uzbeks. Many areas are without gas or electricity. Shops have been looted and people are short of food. The reports of Russian servicemen arriving have reduced panic. Everybody’s waiting for the situation to get back to normal. Many people have been killed since the unrest broke out. Everybody’s pinning their hopes on Russian troops helping to restore order. Many have left their homes and property for fear of arson,” Bahit Ibragimov told RT by phone.

“I’m in Osh. It's a bit quieter here now, at least where I am; but you can still hear shots being fired, but I don’t know who’s shooting who. We have information that a plane has brought Russian Special Forces and some say it's brought humanitarian aid, but I don’t know if that's true,” Massuda Akieva told RT.

Although it has not been possible so far to independently verify these claims, RT also spoke to a journalist in the town of Dzhalal-Abad, who asked us not to name him.

He says the town and surrounding area risk being caught up in mass ethnic violence.

“Tension started to rise in Jalal-abad in the afternoon, shops closed and panic spread among the Uzbeks whose families are sending women and children towards Uzbekistan. There are rumours of riots starting later. Several thousand Kyrgyz youngsters went to a military base to demand weapons. The military refused and were shooting in the air to disperse the crowd. I believe a group of Kyrgyz men are moving to Suzak on an armoured personnel carrier and by car. In Suzak, a large number of well-armed Uzbeks are thought to be waiting for them,” the journalist told RT on condition of anonymity.

Aliyma Sharipova, resident of Osh, says the situation remains extremely difficult.

“We, the regular residents of Osh, feel like the government is not doing anything. Gunfire, arsons, looting – it's the same as it was three days ago. The situation is out of control. It is impossible to resolve it on our own,” Aliyma Sharipova says.