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29 Mar 2004 12:37
At least one explosion has ripped through a crowded market in Uzbekistan’s capital on Monday, killing two people and injuring many others in what officials are treating as a terror attack.
Similar blasts were reported in other parts of the remote Central Asian country bordering Afghanistan.
There were several contradictory versions of the incident in Tashkent, the capital of this secretive former Soviet republic.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Ilkhom Zakirov said several blasts had occurred in a bustling market in central Tashkent, adding that the main target had been a toy shop. He said the incident was being treated as a terrorist attack.
“There was more than one explosion.
There were several attempted terrorist attacks,” Zakirov said.
“Some people were arrested.
He declined to confirm or deny a report by Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency that a female suicide bomber had blown herself up in the attack.
The Interior Ministry said it could only confirm one blast in Tashkent, saying it may have been caused by a female suicide bomber, who killed two people.
Later Russian news reports said three police officers had been killed in the blast and another had been shot dead in a subsequent shootout with unidentified suspects.
One witness at the market said she had seen at least 10 dead bodies at Tashkent’s central Chorsu market, describing scenes of carnage.
“I saw more than 10 people lying dead. I saw one person with half their body missing and fragments of body everywhere,” the shocked food-seller said.
Other witnesses described emergency services carrying away the bodies of the dead and injured. The site of the blast was screened from view.
President Islam Karimov was due to make a televised statement later in the day.
Meanwhile, Interfax news agency said at least two blasts had gone off at the same time in the southern Uzbek city of Bukhara, causing unspecified injuries, hinting of a wave of coordinated attacks.
Police were on high alert in this authoritarian former Soviet republic, whose secular government has declared fighting militant Islamists to be its number one priority.
Tashkent was rocked by explosions in 1999 that killed 16 people.
The blame was laid on Islamic militants based in neighbouring Afghanistan and pro-Western opposition leaders.
Those blasts occurred near the offices of Karimov, a hardliner who used the occasion to crack down on the opposition, arresting hundreds of people and prompting protests from human rights groups.
Uzbekistan became a key ally of the United States after the September 11 2001 attacks, opening up its main military base to US troops fighting in Afghanistan.
But critics have long warned that US support for Karimov’s leadership is misplaced, saying the Uzbek security forces’ use of torture and secret executions threatens to radicalise discontented Muslims.
Uzbek militancy has returned to international attention in recent days.
Many of the al-Qaeda radicals targeted by Islamabad in military operations in Pakistan’s remote Wazirstan region, bordering Afghanistan, are thought to be fugitives from Uzbekistan.—Sapa-AFP
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