Uzbekistan protesters under fire after prison break

Friday, May 13, 2005

Protesters in the city of Andijan, Uzbekistan have been fired on by government troops after taking over the Mayor's office and releasing some 2,000 prisoners overnight. Voice of America news is reporting nine dead, and 34 injured, while ten police officers are being held as hostages.

Uzbekistan president Islam Karimov arrived in Andijan this morning to oversee operations, and is expected to make an announcement on national television. Security forces are being deployed, and sporadic automatic gunfire was reported in the city.

President Islam Karimov claimed Saturday that authorities tried to negotiate a peaceful end to protests, but that troops were forced to open fire when insurgents seized the government building and attempted to break through an advancing line of Uzbek police and soldiers.

Thousands are said to have taken to the streets of the city to protest the unfair trial of Muslim activists and draw attention to human rights abuses. A trial of 23 local businessmen on charges of religious extremism triggered the protests. Amnesty International reports that the government uses the law to crack down on activists.

The Ferghana Valley region of the Andijon province is viewed as restive under the rule of Islam Karimov. Russian officials have stated concern that the protests and unrest may spread in the country. Neighbouring states Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have closed their borders with Uzbekistan.