Kyrgyz Security Forces Ill-Equipped to Stop Osh Interethnic Clashes
Clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s southern capital, flared for a second straight night on June 11. Government security forces appear undermanned and ill equipped to contain the violence, which has left at least 45 dead and hundreds injured.
Following the outbreak of clashes around midnight June 10-11, provisional government authorities declared a state of emergency. But witnesses say security forces lack the numbers and the equipment needed to restore order in and around Osh. Late on June 11, witnesses described ongoing gunfire and fires throughout the city. Armed mobs were roaming streets and barricades were being established, some witnesses reported. In a village near Osh, Furkat, homes were being set ablaze, the AKIpress news agency reported.
Interethnic tension has been high in southern Kyrgyzstan since the April ouster of former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive]. The political turmoil of the last two months appears to have released pent-up economic and social frustrations among Kyrgyz in the South, who have long felt that northern Kyrgyzstan receives a disproportionately large share of state resources, as well as among southern Kyrgyzstan’s large Uzbek minority, which has long complained of discrimination treatment. [For background see the EurasiaNet's archive].
According to Interior Ministry officials, the violence was touched off by a brawl in a restaurant over a dinner bill. But officials believe that the violence is being fanned by forces intent on disrupting government plans to hold a constitutional referendum on June 27. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive]. Appearing on state television, provisional President Rosa Otunbayeva appealed to women to intervene and help restore order. “Dear sisters, find the right words for your sons, husbands and brothers. In the current situation, it is unacceptable to indulge in feelings of revenge and anger," she said.
In Bishkek, meanwhile, the mood was growing unsettled during the evening hours of June 11. A crowd estimated at 1,000 of Kyrgyz gathered at the Osh Market on the western edge of the capital, and some zealots reportedly were trying to arrange transport to Osh with the intention of joining the fray.
According to a report distributed by AKIpress, hundreds of protestors gathered outside the National Television and Radio Company also seeking transportation to Osh. At 9.20 pm, a group of Kyrgyz at the television complex managed to interrupt the live broadcast of the World Cup tournament’s opening match in order to make a speech lasting approximately 20 minutes.
Residents in central Bishkek reported hearing gunfire, but there were no initial reports of injuries in the capital. Entrepreneurs, mindful of the looting that followed the April ouster of Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s administration, have posted armed security guards at many shops and stores.
Amid the breakdown of order in southern Kyrgyzstan, rumors were fanning fears. According to one such unverifiable report, Kyrgyz were massing on the outskirts of Osh, preparing to descend upon Uzbek neighborhoods. Another rumor suggested that the government of Uzbekistan had sent military units into Kyrgyzstan in order to help stop the violence.
In the Aravan District, near Osh, a crowd of Uzbek men called on local authorities to make weapons available to them, and to facilitate their passage to Osh so that they could help protect Uzbeks there. Authorities refused the request.
The provisional government dispatched a team of 27 doctors from Bishkek to Osh to help treat those injured in the violence. Local doctors said they expected the death toll to rise, noting that Uzbeks appeared reluctant to seek treatment for wounds at local hospitals.
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