06/21/2010, 00.00
KYRGYZSTAN
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Clashes with troops in Osh, more dead

The government acknowledges two people died in clashes that broke out yesterday between Kyrgyz troops and ethnic Uzbeks in an Osh suburb. Human rights activists speak of “unacceptable” violence by the military. President Otunbayeva reiterates her government’s intention to hold a constitutional referendum next Sunday.
Bishkek (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Kyrgyz security forces clashed again with ethnic Uzbeks near the troubled southern city of Osh on Monday and at least two people were killed, officials and human rights groups said. A researcher with human rights groups said that clashes broke out when government forces went on patrol in the Uzbek neighbourhood of Nariman on the outskirts of Osh. The military were searching for weapons, a move resented by locals, especially Uzbeks. Many people were beaten and clashes left 20 people wounded.

"During a security operation, law enforcement forces were met with armed resistance in the village of Nariman. According to preliminary information, two civilians died," Timur Kamchibekov, a spokesman for the Kyrgyz interim government, said.

Tolekan Ismailova, a prominent human rights campaigner, said instead that four people were killed in an operation conducted by local police on Monday. “There are a lot of wounded hiding in the houses,” she said. “Young people are being taken away somewhere," added. "It's unacceptable to act like this towards civilians."

The military action has raised many eyebrows because tensions remain high in Osh, which was most affected by violence last week.

Meanwhile, soldiers and civilians have started to take down barricades that divided the city when ethnic clashes broke out. However, many continue to fear that the bloodletting is not over yet.

The official death toll from last week's violence now stands at 208, but the interim government said it could be as high as 2,000, plus many more wounded, burnt-out houses and widespread destruction.

According to the United Nations, about a million people have been displaced, this in a country of 5.3 million.

Earlier today, interim President Roza Otunbayeva said her government still plans to go ahead with next Sunday’s constitutional referendum, despite the uncertain situation in the south and many calls for postponement.

"Holding this referendum has become necessary because we must create a legal framework. If we allow any delays, this will threaten us with further instability,” Otunbayeva said after travelling to Jalal-Abad where things are getting back to normal with stores and restaurants reopening.

The United States and Russia, which both operate military air bases in Kyrgyzstan, are pressing for the referendum to go ahead.

On Sunday, Moscow said its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "underscored the importance of the June 27 referendum . . . for stabilising the situation".

Turkey and Kazakhstan on Monday backed the referendum plan, saying that they would offer their support and provide aid to Kyrgyzstan, which is already experiencing food shortages in large areas of its territory.

Under the new constitution, the prime minister would wield more power.

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