Uzbek President Islam Karimov has blamed violence in the eastern city of Andijon on Islamic extremist groups in the region. He said some 30 people were killed in clashes between protesters and security forces in the city May 13. But witness reports suggest the death toll may be much higher. Meanwhile, unrest is now reported elsewhere east of Andijon.
In Karimov's first public comments on the Andijon violence, he said at a May 14 press conference in Tashkent that authorities had done everything they could to avoid bloodshed. He said no one had ordered forces to fire on demonstrators.
Karimov said it was the protesters who seized Andijon's government building who were careless with human lives.
"They called everyone by phone and, while they were taking control of the building, family members, wives, elderly people, and even small children started coming," Karimov said. "They put them around the building of the oblhokimiyat [regional administration] as human shields. In all, there were approximately 300 people -- all women, children, and elderly people."
Karimov blamed the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamist organization for the violence, and said the protests were organized by the same group of people who organized demonstrations in southern Kyrgyzstan that helped bring down that country's government in March.
Hizb ut-Tahrir has denied it is involved in the Andijon unrest. It says it rejects violence, and says Karimov's allegations are "another futile attempt, by a weak and ailing regime," to malign the group.
Karimov said a total of about 30 people, including Interior Ministry officers, were killed in the clashes. He said some 100 people were wounded. But doctors and witnesses in Andijon say the casualty count is higher, and includes women and children.
Foreign journalists have been ordered out of the city, making independent reporting very difficult.
FRESH VIOLENCE ACROSS REGION
There was more shooting in the city on May 14, as protesters gathered again.
RFE/RL's Tajik Service correspondent Mirasror Farghoni was there. "When we were there, there was very strong shooting for 1 1/2 hours," Farghoni reported. "We were able to hide in a basement of the building near the regional-administration building. The shooting continued. It was so strong during the 1 1/2 hours we were there, that I felt like all the buildings were destroyed. People were trying to hide, too."
In Andijon on May 14, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Sadriddin Ashurov spoke to people as they searched for bodies of their relatives. "Yesterday, they killed little children, babies," one young man said. "They killed women. They collected all [the bodies.]"
Another man said: "Last night, they [authorities] collected all the corpses of women and children. Because they couldn't say those were terrorists. Only male bodies are left. They are everywhere in the city."
Meanwhile, there is more unrest east of Andijon. And at least 1,000 people fleeing the violence have already crossed into neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Elmurad Yusupaliev was in Kara-suu on the border with Kyrgyzstan. "This morning several thousand people gathered outside the city mayor's office in the town of Kara-suu of Andijon region of Uzbekistan," he reported. "They stormed the building. They have also beaten several employees of the city administration up. They took the city mayor hostage. I was right there on the Uzbek territory watching these myself. They forced the city mayor to climb on the building's roof and said he should criticize Karimov's policy. They said, 'Otherwise, we won't let you come down.' Meanwhile, policemen ran away. So did the border guards."
The Andijon violence began early May 13 when armed supporters of a group of men on trial for Islamic-extremism charges broke into the jail where they were being held.
Protesters then took over the regional-administration building and demanded the release of all people jailed as suspected members of an Islamic group, Akramiya. Security forces later fired on the crowd gathered outside the building.