Asia News and Analysis
Sunday, May 15, 2005 12:38 PM
Uzbek city sealed after clashes
Andijan residents have been trying to find and identify dead relatives
Uzbek security forces have sealed off the centre of Andijan city, where many people were shot dead on Friday.
A BBC correspondent says troops are on the streets, apparently hunting the leaders of anti-government protests.
It is still not known how many people died when soldiers opened fire on demonstrators in the city square. Estimates vary from dozens to hundreds.
Relatives are frantically searching morgues, hospitals and the city’s streets for those who died.
“I have been looking for two days for the bodies of my brothers,” Bakhadyr Yergachyov told the AFP news agency.
“I know that they had gone to the square to participate in the demonstrations.”
Correspondents in Andijan report seeing up to 50 bodies on the streets, though some local witnesses said they had seen as many as 300.
The Associated Press cited a doctor saying 500 bodies had been laid out in a school for identification.
Official figures are much lower.
The BBC’s Monica Whitlock said without any independent humanitarian agencies operating in the region, the true figure may never emerge.
Andijan was mostly quiet overnight and on Sunday morning, though residents were reported to be still washing blood and hair from the streets.
Smoke billowed from a government building, reporters said, while sniper fire could be heard in the background.
A group of 530 refugees, including women and children, are said to have crossed the nearby border with Kyrgyzstan to a Red Cross camp on the other side.
At the border, Uzbek authorities were nowhere to be seen, following clashes with locals on Saturday, the BBC’s Ian MacWilliam reported.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov blamed the unrest in Andijan on what he described as criminals and Islamic radicals linked to the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir movement, who wanted to overthrow the government.
Mr Karimov, an ally of both Washington and Moscow’s war on terror, has taken a tough line on security since a spate of suicide bombings last year, blamed on Islamic extremists.
But critics say he is using the threat of extremism as a cover to crush dissents.
Many of those who had demonstrated in Andijan said it was poverty and unemployment – rather than political or religious demands – that brought them onto the streets.