75,000 flee bloodbath in Kyrgyzstan
Mobs of rioters slaughtered Uzbeks and burned their homes and businesses in Kyrgyzstan's worst ethnic violence in decades, sending more than 75,000 members of the ethnic minority fleeing the country.
The attacks appeared to be aimed at undermining the central Asian nation's new interim government.
More than 100 people were killed in southern Kyrgyzstan and more than 1,200 wounded in days of attacks, according to government estimates, but the true toll may be much higher.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said its delegates witnessed about 100 bodies being buried in just one cemetery and noted that the official toll was unlikely to include bodies still lying in the streets. Fires set by rioters raged across Osh, the second-largest city in Kyrgyzstan, as triumphant crowds of ethnic-majority Kyrgyz men took control.
Police or military troops were nowhere to be seen in the city of 250,000, where food was scarce after widespread looting and the few Uzbeks still left barricaded themselves in their neighbourhoods. The rampages spread quickly to Jalal-Abad, another major southern city 45 miles from Osh, and its neighbouring villages, as mobs methodically set Uzbek houses, stores and cafes on fire.
Rioters seized an armoured vehicle and automatic weapons at a local military unit and attacked police stations around the region trying to get more firearms. Some refugees were fired on as they fled to Uzbekistan. They were mostly elderly people, women and children, with younger men staying behind to defend their property. Many of the more than 75,000 refugees arrived with gunshot wounds, the Uzbekistan Emergencies Ministry said, according to Russian reports.
"We saw lots of dead. I saw one guy die after being shot in the chest," said Ziyeda Akhmedova, an Uzbek women in her late 20s at one of several camps hastily set up in Uzbekistan along the border. She was among the first refugees to reach the border on Friday and said the Uzbek border guards were reluctant to let them in until an approaching Kyrgyz armoured personnel carrier began firing. She had little hope of returning home soon.
"Our houses have been burned down. I don't know how we will live, how we will talk to the people who shot at us," she said.
The US, Russia and the United Nations chief all expressed alarm about the scale of the violence and discussed how to help the refugees. The US and Russia both have military bases in northern Kyrgyzstan, away from the rioting.
Russia refused to send in troops to help the Kyrgyz government, but deployed an extra battalion to protect its air base. A Pentagon spokesman said the interim government had not asked for any US military help.