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Kyrgyzstan Death Toll Rises as Gunmen Target Uzbeks

Kyrgyz soldiers on an armoured vehicle drive past a group of people in Osh on June 11, 2010. Source: STR/AFP/Getty Images
Kyrgyz soldiers on an armoured vehicle drive past a group of people in Osh on June 11, 2010. Source: STR/AFP/Getty Images

June 14 (Bloomberg) -- The death toll from Kyrgyzstan’s ethnic violence may have climbed as high as 700, Interfax reported today, as gangs of gunmen raided Uzbek districts. Tens of thousands of refugees fled across the border into Uzbekistan.

The Russian news agency cited an unidentified Uzbek community leader in the south-western city of Dzhalal-Abad for the number of fatalities. The Kyrgyz health ministry said 124 had died and 1,685 were wounded, Agence France-Press reported. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees is preparing to deploy an emergency team and aid to help Uzbekistan cope with those escaping the violence, the commission said in a statement.

About 700 residents of Dzhalal-Abad, ethnic Uzbeks, were killed during the clashes and burning of houses, the community leader told Interfax today. The southern city of Osh, where mobs ran riot for three days, was reported as quiet by the New York Times. Uzbekistan said the bloodshed was organized.

“There is every reason to conclude such actions have an organized, managed and provocative character,” the Uzbek Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website today. “We have no doubt that all this is taking place under the instigation of forces whose interests are totally far from the interests of the Kyrgyz people.”

Security Meeting

Security Council secretaries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which comprises central Asian former Soviet republics, are meeting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today to discuss the crisis, Interfax said, citing his press secretary Natalia Timakova.

Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s Security Council, said the situation is extremely difficult and measures being taking by the provisional government of Kyrgyzstan are inadequate, RIA Novosti reported. Patrushev called on the organization’s members to take a common approach. More than 80 human rights groups have demanded Russia send peace-keeping troops to end the bloodshed, Interfax said today.

Kyrgyzstan’s interim government yesterday extended a state of emergency throughout the Jalalabad region as tens of thousands of refugees fled the country and Russia sent a battalion of soldiers to protect its military base.

According to the Uzbek government, more than 75,000 refugees have arrived from Kyrgyzstan since Friday, the UNHCR statement said.

‘Grateful’

“We are very grateful for the willingness of the Uzbek authorities to welcome and receive people fleeing violence in Kyrgyzstan,” said António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “We have agreed with the Uzbek government to support their efforts and assist tens of thousands, mostly women and children seeking safety in Uzbekistan.”

The Uzbek government is expected to close its borders today and will not accept any more people, an unidentified government official told Xinhua new agency.

The U.S. and Russia have been jostling for influence in Kyrgyzstan, where both countries have air bases. Russia agreed in April to give the provisional government $50 million. Edil Baisalov, the government’s chief of staff, said at the time that the U.S. planned to give emergency aid.

The U.S. relies on the Manas air base outside the capital Bishkek to support operations in Afghanistan after Uzbekistan evicted the American military in 2005.

Poverty Line

The violence may hurt Kyrgyzstan’s economic growth prospects, according to the International Monetary Fund. Growth in Central Asia and the Caucasus will accelerate to 4.3 percent in 2010 as exports increase, capital flows turn positive and the drop in money sent home from abroad slows, the IMF said in a May 25 report.

Kyrgyzstan’s projected 4.6 percent expansion may be damped by the political upheaval that started in April and led to the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the fund said.

The landlocked country depends on remittances from migrant workers in Russia for about 40 percent of national income, and also relies on rent paid by the U.S. and Russia for their bases. Kyrgyzstan’s average monthly wage was $132 in January, according to the country’s National Statistical Committee.

About a third of the population lives below the poverty level, making the country eligible for aid from the International Development Association, the World Bank’s support arm for the poorest economies.

The som, which was created as a managed currency in 1993 to replace the Russian ruble after the collapse of the Soviet Union, has lost 1.7 percent against the dollar since the uprising against Bakiyev in April and is down 21 percent over the past two years.

Eruption

The violence erupted late on June 10 in an area that was a focus of unrest in April when supporters of Bakiyev clashed with groups loyal to the country’s interim government.

The Kremlin has sent three aircraft carrying troops to protect Russia’s Kant military base, Interfax reported, citing an unidentified military official. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, yesterday said Russia wouldn’t send troops after the interim leader Roza Otunbayeva asked Moscow to help quell ethnic violence. A call to Peskov wasn’t immediately returned yesterday.

In a statement released yesterday in Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the U.S. “calls for a rapid restoration of peace and public order in the city of Osh and elsewhere where it appears ethnic violence is occurring.”

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said the bloc was “very concerned” at the escalating crisis.

“It is very, very important to me that we get order restored,” she told reporters before a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg today.

Bakiyev, who has taken refuge in Belarus, denied accusations yesterday by the government that he is involved in the unrest, Interfax said, citing Bakiyev.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anastasia Ustinova in St. Petersburg at austinova@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hellmuth Tromm in Berlin at htromm@bloomberg.net

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