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Uzbek troops enter border town after unrest

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-05-19T125421Z_01_N19679089_RTRIDST_0_NEWS-UZBEKISTAN-TOWN-DC.XML Uzbek troops enter
    Message 1 of 1 , May 19, 2005
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      http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-05-19T125421Z_01_N19679089_RTRIDST_0_NEWS-UZBEKISTAN-TOWN-DC.XML

      Uzbek troops enter border town after unrest
      Thu May 19, 2005 8:55 AM ET

      By Dmitry Solovyov

      QORASUV, Uzbekistan (Reuters) - Uzbek forces retook
      control of the eastern border town of Qorasuv early on
      Thursday after days of unrest in the aftermath of
      bloody clashes in nearby Andizhan.

      Interior ministry troops rolled into the town on the
      border with Kyrgyzstan at 4 a.m. and, encountering
      little if any resistance, quickly established control
      over bridges and other key points, local people said.

      A dozen soldiers in full combat gear on Thursday
      lounged near the bridge spanning the small river that
      forms part of the border with Kyrgyzstan, drinking
      soup and sipping tea.

      There were few soldiers elsewhere in the town and no
      signs of violence.

      But the atmosphere was tense and the few people out on
      the streets were reluctant to speak. "We are scared to
      be punished. Even walls have ears," one of them told
      this correspondent.

      The small town with a population of about 25,000 has
      seethed with unrest since last Saturday when about 200
      or so people rebelled and destroyed a local police
      headquarters.

      The unrest came a day after bloodshed in Andizhan
      when, witnesses say, troops opened fire on rebels and
      protesters, killing hundreds.

      The violence in the tightly-controlled Central Asian
      state has led to expressions of concern from the West
      and the United States, which regards the mainly-Muslim
      country as an ally in the war on terrorism.

      The Uzbek government says 169 people were killed in
      the May 13 Andizhan violence, most of them "bandits"
      who themselves had killed civilians and security
      officials.

      But witnesses said some 500 people, including women
      and children, were killed when security forces opened
      fire on rebels and protesters.

      NOT POLITICS OR ISLAM

      The trouble in Andizhan was sparked by a trial of 23
      businessmen and blamed by President Islam Karimov on
      Islamic extremists.

      But locals said neither politics nor Islam had
      anything to do with the Qorasuv unrest. They said many
      people had taken advantage of events in Andizhan to
      vent their anger over the closure of bridges with
      Kyrgyzstan that had divided families for years.

      One 30-year-old who identified himself as Adaham
      discounted foreign news reports of a rebellion led by
      an Islamic leader, Bakhtiyor Rakhimov, who said he
      intended to build an Islamic state.

      "Rakhimov has no strong influence. Residents simply
      wanted good for the people who have not been able to
      see their relatives for six years," he said.

      The BBC earlier reported that Rakhimov was arrested by
      the troops who swept into the town on Thursday.
      Prosecutor General's office in Uzbek capital Tashkent
      could not immediately confirm his arrest.

      Soldiers refused to discuss their operation and waved
      away press photographers. Earlier, witnesses on the
      Kyrgyz side of the border said a military helicopter
      hovered over the town in the morning. One trader who
      crossed from Uzbekistan into Kyrgyzstan said troops
      had been hunting down people connected to unrest.

      Though the border was open for routine trade and
      visits by local families on Thursday, Uzbek police
      were questioning people crossing in from Kyrgyzstan.

      In Tashkent, a state security spokesman said: "Even if
      there are any arrests (in Qorasuv) they are being
      carried out only within the framework of criminal
      investigations.

      "The situation there is stable. Border and customs
      services are functioning normally," Alimzhon Turakulov
      said.

      Washington has urged President Islam Karimov to be
      open about events in Andizhan, while the United
      Nations and the European Union have called for an
      independent inquiry.

      British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has called on
      Karimov to agree to an independent international
      inquiry. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
      said on Thursday that the U.S.-led alliance was "very
      worried" about the bloodshed and would like to see
      free access to the region. (Additional reporting by
      Maria Golovnina)
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