Kyrgyzstan’s worst outbreak of violence since the president was overthrown in April raged for a second day on Saturday and officials said the death toll in the ethnic conflict had risen to at least 49.
“Entire streets are on fire,” Interior Ministry spokesperson Rakhmatillo Akhmedov said of the violence in the southern city of Osh.
“The situation is very bad. There is no sign of it stopping. Homes have been set ablaze,” he said
The interim government in Kyrgyzstan, which hosts US and Russian military bases, declared a state of emergency in Osh and several local rural districts on Friday after hundreds of youths fought with guns and steel bars.
A Reuters correspondent in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city, said gun battles had taken place through the night in an Uzbek neighbourhood of the city.
A spokesperson for the Kyrgyz Health Ministry said at least 49 people had been killed and 654 wounded in the violence in the southern power base of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, deposed in April by a popular revolt.
The interim government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, has sent troops and armoured vehicles to quell the violence.
Supporters of Bakiyev, now in exile in Belarus, briefly seized government buildings in the south on May 13, defying central authorities in Bishkek.
Renewed turmoil in the impoverished former Soviet republic will fuel concern among regional players Russia, China and the United States.
Washington uses its air base in the north of the country, about 300km from Osh, to supply its forces in Afghanistan.
Kyrgyzstan, which won independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, has been in turmoil since the revolt that toppled Bakiyev on April 7, kindling fears of civil war.
Ethnic unrest between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks is a concern in the Fergana valley where Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan meet. Hundreds of people were killed in ethnic clashes near Osh, a city of more than 200 000 in 1990.
On May 19, two people were killed and 74 wounded in clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the city of Jalalabad. On the same day, Otunbayeva said she would rule the country until the end of 2011, scrapping plans for presidential polls in October.
Of Kyrgyzstan’s 5,3-million population, ethnic Kyrgyz make up 69,6%, Uzbeks 14,5% and Russians 8,4%.
In the south, Uzbeks comprise about 40% of the one million population in the Jalalabad region and about 50% in the neighbouring region of Osh. – Reuters