Bishkek (AsiaNews) – Osh, Jalal-abad and other towns in southern Kyrgyzstan have seen a flare-up in interethnic violence, with various gangs fighting in the streets. This has led the provisional government to put off presidential elections until after 31 December 2011.
According to eyewitnesses, clashes broke out yesterday in the city of Jalal-abad after a large mob of ethnic Kyrgyz tried to storm a People’s Friendship University building, which was defended by a number of Uzbeks.
Officially, two people were killed and 62 wounded in the street fighting around the university. Others say that the number of the injured was much higher; among them was a 5-year-old girl who was shot in the abdomen. By evening, shops and schools were closed.
Residents also reported seeing groups of young Kyrgyz roaming the town of Jalal-abad carrying sticks and pieces of pipe, as ethnic Uzbeks armed with makeshift weapons barricaded themselves inside some apartment buildings.
The situation has led the government to declare a state of emergency. A curfew between 10 pm and 6 pm was imposed until 1 June with army troops patrolling the streets.
A similar measure was taken in Osh and other cities of southern Kyrgyzstan.
President Roza Otunbayeva, who heads the provisional government, announced that presidential elections scheduled six months from now were postponed and that the interim government would remain in power until 31 December 2011.
The authorities blame the protests on supporters of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev who was ousted last month after a popular uprising.
According to local sources, the clashes are ethnic in nature.
Violence broke out when ethnic Uzbeks, who back the provisional government, helped take back the Jalal-Abad provincial government headquarters from Bakiyev supporters six days ago.
A day earlier, the latter had thrown own officials appointed by the provisional government.
Eventually, pent-up anger among Bakiyev’s Kyrgyz supporters was unleashed yesterday.
Yesterday's fighting conjured up memories of the ethnic conflict between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities in Uzgen, near Osh, in 1990. At the time, massive rioting left hundreds dead and caused extensive property damage.
Acting Defence Minister Ismail Isakov and acting Interior Minister Baktybek flew to Jalal-abad to vet the situation, whilst a government spokesperson urged the press to file balanced reports.
Officially, Uzbeks account for 776,000 of Kyrgyzstan’s 5.4 million population, but many say the number is closer to a million.