Violence Spreads In Uzbekistan

Local residents look at the bodies of people killed in the fighting following suppression of an uprising in Andijan, Uzbekistan on Saturday.
Eight Uzbek soldiers and three Islamic militants died in a clash near the Kyrgyz border Sunday and more than 500 Uzbeks fled to safety across the frontier, witnesses said, in spreading violence that further threatened stability in this Central Asia country, a key American ally and host to an important U.S. military outpost.

The explosions of pent-up anger have now hit at least two Uzbek border towns in the volatile Fergana Valley. As many as 500 people reportedly were killed Friday in Andijan, Uzbekistan's fourth-largest city about 30 miles west of the Kyrgyz frontier, when government troops were called in to put down an uprising by alleged Islamic militants and citizens protesting dire economic conditions.

In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Sunday there had been rights abuses in Uzbekistan. "The situation is very serious; there has been a clear abuse of human rights, a lack of democracy and a lack of openness," he told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The Uzbek government rejected the criticism. "From where has Jack Straw learned that law enforcement had 'opened fire on demonstrators' if that did not take place at all," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The United States faces a quandary in responding to the violence because of its ties to the Karimov government and its air base in the country. So far U.S. authorities have only called on both sides to work out their differences peacefully.

About 500 bodies were laid out in rows at an Andijan school, according to a respected doctor in the town, seeming to corroborate other witness accounts of hundreds killed in the fighting. Relatives were arriving at Andijan's School No. 15 to identify the dead, said the doctor, who spoke by telephone on condition she not be named.

The doctor, who also said about 2,000 people were wounded, is widely regarded as knowledgeable about local affairs. She did not say how she arrived at her estimate.

Security was tight in Andijan as stunned residents cleaned blood off streets guarded by troops and armored vehicles. One man said he saw the bodies of three people apparently killed by a soldier Sunday, two days after government forces put down the uprising.

"The city was burying its victims throughout the entire day, and the people are very angry at the president for his order to open fire at protesters," said the man, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Ilkhom.

The Uzbek Foreign Ministry on Sunday denied that government forces had opened fire on demonstrators. President Islam Karimov has said 10 government soldiers and "many more" protesters died in the Friday conflict and at least 100 people were wounded.

Since then the government has imposed a near-total news blackout on the region, keeping reporters away from scenes of violence.