Ethnic rioting in Kyrgyzstan claims 117 lives

      The death toll from three days of ethnic rioting in southern Kyrgzstan has risen to 117. A New York Times report has said thousands of refugees are pouring across the border into Uzbekistan, as the authorities were unable to contain the murderous mobs. Heavily armed police officers guarded intersections, and troops patrolled in tracked artillery vehicles, but few pedestrians or motorists were visible. According to a Xinhua report, Russia has sent a battalion of paratroopers to protect its facilities at a military base in northern Kyrgyzstan. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed the situation with Kyrgyz interim President Roza Otunbayeva over the phone, calling for an end to the unrest as soon as possible. With death toll rising to 117 and thousands of refugees fleeing to neighboring Uzbekistan, the worsening situation in Kyrgyzstan also alarmed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said the United Nations was urgently assessing humanitarian aid needs resulting from the clashes. Meanwhile, former Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted amid clashes in April, denied his alleged involvement in the unrest. Osh was tense but quiet as the authorities appeared to have had some success in restoring order. The situation remains volatile, and the unrest still threatened the fragile provisional government in this country, which hosts a critical American military base. According to reports from villages and towns across the region, bands of Kyrgyz had sought out Uzbeks, setting fire to their homes and killing them. Tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks have erupted before, and appear to have been reignited by the ouster of the president in April. Local Uzbeks largely support the country’s new leadership in a predominantly Kyrgyz stronghold of the former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The provisional government has accused Bakiyev of provoking the violence in order to destabilize the country. On Sunday, Bakiyev, who is in exile in Belarus, issued a statement saying that he had played no role in the violence. Uzbeks make up about 15 percent of the overall population of Kyrgyzstan, but they are represented in much higher numbers in Osh, which has roughly 225,000 people and is on the Uzbek border. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have repeatedly clashed over land and water in the fertile Fergana Valley, which Stalin divided among Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The valley remains an ethnic patchwork, and minority enclaves, like that of the Uzbeks in Osh, have been scenes for violence.

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