12 killed in new Wave of Unrest in Kyrgyzstan
By Leila Saralayeva
Riots in south Kyrgyzstan have killed at least 12 people and injured more than 120, officials said Friday, as fears grew of a new cycle of violence in the Central Asian nation.
Witnesses in Osh, the country's second-largest city, reported hearing sustained gunfire late Thursday. Local media also reported that gangs of young men armed with sticks and stones smashed shop windows and set cars alight in the center.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Yelena Bailinova said 12 people have been killed and more than 120 injured. Many of the injured were being treated for gunshot wounds, she said.
Interim authorities swiftly declared a state of emergency in the city and dispatched armored vehicles and troops to the city in a bid to pacify the situation.
But local residents said shooting continued into the morning and helicopters were flying low overhead. Several buildings across the city were on fire.
Kyrgyzstan has been enjoying an uneasy calm since a mass revolt in April led to the overthrow of then-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Quelling the disturbances in Osh will prove a decisive test of the provisional government's ability to control the country.
The mood in south has been tense, however, since five people were killed and dozens injured during two separate clashes in the town of Jalal-Abad, which is about 70 kilometers (45 miles) from Osh.
It is unclear what caused the latest round of unrest, but local Kyrgyz media have reported that a brawl broke out late Thursday evening on the city's main thoroughfare.
One Osh resident told The Associated Press that he heard a 10-minute-long burst of gunfire shortly past midnight. Local media said they received reports of firing throughout the night.
Osh, which lies on the fringes of the volatile Ferghana Valley, has a large Uzbek minority and a history of ethnic violence. There seemed to be no clear evidence that the violence was provoked by ethnic tensions, however.
Russian news agency Interfax reported that seven armored personnel vehicles carrying soldiers drove into the center early Friday.
The interim government has declared a state of emergency in Osh and surrounding districts that will remain in effect until June 20. A curfew has been imposed from 8 pm to 6 am.
In an emotional televised address Friday, interim President Roza Otunbayeva called for a return to calm.
"I would like to appeal in particular to the women of Kyrgyzstan. 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, according to the Associated Press.