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Ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan kills 117

http://www.reuters.com/resources/r/?m=02&d=20100614&t=2&i=128956683&w=300&fh=300&fw=&ll=&pl=&r=2010-06-14T072812Z_01_BTRE65B0ORW00_RTROPTP_0_KYRGYZSTAN-VIOLENCE

Kyrgyzstan (Reuters) – Kyrgyzstan’s interim government said on Monday it had arrested a “well-known person” on suspicion of fomenting the worst ethnic riots in 20 years, which have killed at least 117 and left cities in flames.

The Interior Ministry in the Central Asian state, which hosts Russian and U.S. military bases, said the situation in Osh and Jalalabad was “tense.” A Reuters witness in Osh said gangs resumed shooting on Monday at residents and homes in one area of the city.

The interim government said authorities in Jalalabad had made an arrest. It did not disclose the person’s identity, but repeated accusations that supporters of ex-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was overthrown in April, were behind the violence.

Bakiyev, in exile in Belarus, issued a statement from there on Sunday in which he denied claims he was behind the clashes.

But Kubatbek Baibolov, commandant in Jalalabad, said in televised comments: “This is nothing other than an attempt by Bakiyev’s supporters and relatives to seize power.”

The ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbek residents began late on Thursday and escalated over the weekend. Witnesses said gangs armed with automatic rifles, iron bars and machetes had set fire to houses and shot fleeing residents.

Kyrgyzstan’s interim government, which assumed power after the April revolt, has been unable to gain full control of the country’s south, which is separated from the north by mountains. It appealed to Russia at the weekend to send in troops.

The renewed turmoil in Kyrgyzstan has fueled concern in Russia, the United States and neighbor China. Washington uses an air base at Manas in the north of the ex-Soviet state, about 300 km (190 miles) from Osh, to supply forces in Afghanistan.

Russia has said it will not send in peacekeepers alone but will discuss the situation within a Moscow-led security bloc of former Soviet republics known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Kyrgyzstan’s interim foreign ministry said the CSTO meeting would take place in Moscow later on Monday.

Led by Roza Otunbayeva, the interim government has sent a volunteer force to the south and granted shoot-to-kill powers to its security forces in response to the deadly riots. Otunbayeva has accused supporters of Bakiyev of stoking ethnic conflict.

The Health Ministry said on Monday that 117 had been killed — 93 in Osh and 24 in Jalalabad — and 1,485 wounded in the violence, exceeding the death toll in the capital Bishkek during the overthrow of the president in April.

Moscow sent at least 150 paratroopers to Kyrgyzstan on Sunday to protect its own military facilities in the country.

Sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Russian troops could also be deployed to guard a hydroelectric power station in the south, freeing up Kyrgyz troops to combat the rioters. Russia’s embassy in Kyrgyzstan declined to comment.

HUMANITARIAN AID

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was alarmed by the scale of the clashes and ordered a special envoy to travel to the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, his office said in a statement.

The Red Cross said on Sunday the humanitarian situation in southern Kyrgyzstan was becoming “critical.”

Bread had been delivered to some residents of Osh, who were fearing starvation after grocery stores burned to the ground, a Reuters reporter said. Ethnic Uzbeks trapped in one neighborhood of Osh gathered to share stockpiled food.

The interim government has sent two planes, each loaded with 50 kg of food, clothing and medical supplies, to the south. Residents of northern Kyrgyzstan have donated humanitarian supplies and some residents are giving blood in Bishkek.

The Interior Ministry said six policemen had been killed in the conflict. Shooting occurred in Jalalabad overnight, it said, and its forces were patrolling southern regions.

The European Union is sending its special representative for Central Asia, Pierre Morel. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), currently chaired by Kyrgyzstan’s northern neighbor, Kazakhstan, is also sending a special envoy.

Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan intertwine in the Fergana Valley. While Uzbeks make up 14.5 percent of the Kyrgyz population, the two groups are roughly equal in the Osh and Jalalabad regions.

The latest clashes are the worst ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan since 1990, when then-Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev sent Soviet troops into Osh after hundreds of people were killed in a dispute that started over land ownership.

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