Slaughter 'signals end of Karimov regime'
Uzbekistan’s opposition unveiled a list of 745 people on Tuesday said to have been killed by state troops in the east of the country, and raised the prospect of unrest in the capital over the apparent massacre.
Nigara Khidoyatova, the leader of the Free Peasants party, which forms part of a broader opposition coalition, said her party has the names of 542 people killed on Friday in Andijan.
The list includes 203 residents of the nearby town Pakhtabad, where there have been unsubstantiated claims of troops firing on civilians. Previous claims put the recent death toll at 500.
She said the events in Andijan are well known in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, and “everybody felt indignation”.
She told The Guardian: “The beginning of the end of the [Karimov] regime has already started.”
Her claims of the death toll were denied by Uzbekistan’s Prosecutor General, Rashid Kadyrov, who said 169 people were killed in Andijan, of whom 32 were troops and none was a civilian.
“Only terrorists were liquidated by government forces,” he told The Associated Press, as Uzbekistan’s President, Islam Karimov, stood by his side.
Karimov attacked the condemnation of the massacre by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, decrying his “false information”. Journalists have been barred from the city for their own protection, he said.
Yet Khidoyatova said her colleagues have visited each of the makhala (the tight communities making up Uzbek society) in Andijan and asked after their dead, many having “four or five names for the list”.
“It’s still not completed,” she said. “If there is no access to information—if our government is misinforming us—we are obliged to mobilise society to know what happened. The Uzbek people have the right to know the truth in the end.”
She added that many of the dead were students drawn from the big cities in the impoverished Ferghana valley to Andijan’s university. She said those shot in Pakhtabad were mainly women and children who were fleeing Andijan.
Late on Monday, Washington gave its first public criticism of the apparent massacre in Andijan by one of its most awkward allies in the war on terror. State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher said Washington is “deeply disturbed” by reports of Uzbek troops firing on civilians.
But in a joint press conference with Straw in Washington on Tuesday night, Condoleezza Rice, the United States Secretary of State, said American policy on Uzbekistan has been consistent.
“I think you would find that we have ... a record of going to the Karimov government and telling them in no uncertain terms it’s time to open up their political system and reform.”
A protest of up to 50 people formed outside the US embassy in Tashkent on Tuesday. Demonstrators denounced US support for the government.
Akhtam Shaimardanov, a member of a small opposition party, told Reuters: “We want the US to see Uzbekistan not only as a giant military base in their war on terror, but also as a country where people want freedom and human rights.”
Uzbekistan’s political opposition has limited reach after years of repression, making mass street protests similar to those that fomented regime change in Ukraine and Georgia unlikely.
Andijan remained quiet on Tuesday despite gunfire in the morning.
In neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, refugees spoke of their flight from Andijan. One woman said she ran overnight in the rain to Teshektosh and there Uzbek guards had opened fire on her group, killing two men and two women.
“While Karimov is sitting there, we cannot come back as death awaits us. We know he calls us terrorists, but we are not—just simple people who only want to defend our rights.”—Guardian Unlimited Â