MOSCOW, May 14 -- Scores of civilians were killed when Uzbek troops opened fire on protesters, some of them armed, in the eastern city of Andijon on Friday, human rights groups and witnesses said. The president of the Central Asian republic said Saturday that the use of force was necessary to quell unrest that he called the work of "criminals" and "Islamic radicals."
At a news conference in Tashkent, the capital, President Islam Karimov said 10 soldiers were killed in clashes after troops entered a central square and government buildings where thousands of protesters had gathered. Karimov said "many more" protesters than troops were killed but did not provide specific numbers.
Human rights groups said as many as 200 people may have been killed, and local activists and witnesses said troops had removed dozens of bodies from the city center.
The protests spread Saturday to the city of Ilyichevsk, 20 miles southeast of Andijon and on the border with Kyrgyzstan. Thousands of Uzbeks have streamed to the area, demanding access to the neighboring country. About 500 broke through a closed border.
"They torched a car belonging to a policeman and pushed a border guard's car into the canal and demanded to be allowed to pass through unhindered" into Kyrgyzstan, a Kyrgyz police official, Ravshan Abdukarimov, told the Reuters news service.
Read the whole thing here.
It's not clear exactly what is going on here. Some in the blogosphere have been hailing this as the latest manifestion of the international freedom imperative, but there are reports that the protestors are in fact Islamist radicals. Certainly, that has been the Uzbekistan government line.
Muhammed Salikh, an exiled opposition figure is quoted as saying:
This is not a rebellion of radicals.... This is a rebellion of ordinary people who got tired of the Karimov regime.
But the government insists they are fighting Islamist radicals.
I would point out that people being tired of a brutal dictator is not the same as a democracy movement and that Islamist radicals protesting a secular tyrant is not a contradiction -- that's pretty much what they're all about.
Robert Mayer over at Publius Pundit favors the position these are legitimate democratic protestors, despite government claims to the contrary. He writes:
On the issue of the businessmen [arrested by the government] beingPublius is an excellent source on all things revolutionary. Check his posts out here.
Islamic extremists, I doubt it. As I have already said, Karimov uses this
frequently as an excuse to arrest people, and locals seem to be denying that
Registran.net is updating the situation frequently, and has links to other, more immediate, sources. Check it out here.
And Gateway Pundit has pictures and video here. [no protest babe sightings yet but lots of angry and frightened people and some corpses]