Kyrgyzstan: Ethnic unrest continues, government asks Russia for help

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A second day of ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan between Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks has killed at least 62 people and wounded over 800 more, reports say, as violence there entered its second day. The interim Kyrgyz president, Roza Otunbayeva, meanwhile, appealed to the Russian government to send in troops to try and restore order.

The clashes are occurring primarily in the southern city of Osh. Witnesses say the chaos and violence has increased, and central authority collapsed, with gunfire audible throughout the city. The violence started on Thursday night, when ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks started street brawls that soon escalated into battles; riots and looting started, cars were damaged, and buildings set alight by both sides.

In a nationally televised speech, Otunbayeva commented: "I have signed a letter asking Dmitry Medvedev for third-party forces to be sent to the Kyrgyz Republic. Since yesterday the situation has got out of control. We need outside military forces to halt the situation. For this reason we have appealed to Russia for help."

Russian officials say the Kyrgyz leader had talks with Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin by telephone yesterday night.

Thousands of Uzbeks, meanwhile, have crowded the border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in an effort to flee the ongoing conflict; one child was trampled to death during the escape. According to a reporter for the BBC, people are being let through the border one by one by security guards.

By the latest official death tolls, at least 62 people have been killed, although the interim government believes that there could be up to 200 dead. Researcher for Human Rights Watch Andrea Berg cautioned that the death toll could jump once the government enters Uzbek neighbourhoods; under Uzbek tradition, the dead are buried within one day.

"We are moving corpses out of the city streets; however, there are regions that the authorities do not control, it is not known what is going on there. Additionaly, as a result of fires in the city, entire residential apartments burnt down, so there could be more dead people there as well," said a spokesman for the Russian ministry of health (Minzdrav).

Unrest also reached the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek; a medical official told the Agence France-Presse news service that 27 people were hospitalised, some of which are in critical condition.