Uzbekistan Protests: 500 Die in Crackdown
LIANE HANSEN, host:
Today, burials are being held for about 500 people in eastern Uzbekistan who were killed by security forces trying to quell anti-government demonstrations. Uzbekistan has supported the United States in the war against terrorism, and has provided a base for American operations in neighboring Afghanistan. Jenny Norton is a Central Asian analyst for the BBC, and she's on the line from the capital, Tashkent.
Thanks for your time, Jenny.
Ms. JENNY NORTON (BBC Central Asian Analyst): Good morning, hi. Nice to talk to you.
HANSEN: What more can you tell us about the situation today?
Ms. NORTON: Well, what we're hearing from Andijan today is that there's a big troop presence on the city. There are soldiers completely surrounding the old part of the city. That's where the demonstrations took part yesterday. It's also where the main bazaar is and where the main mosque is. And we believe they're conducting some sort of a security operation.
HANSEN: What is the government of President Islom Karimov saying?
Ms. NORTON: Well, President Karimov held a press briefing yesterday to give the government's version of events. He said 10 government troops were killed in Andijan on Friday. He said that a significant higher number of people--of other people were killed, but he didn't give a specific number. He said that what happened was an uprising. In fact, he didn't even call it an uprising. He blamed what happened on what he called a group of armed Islamic radicals, who he accused of attacking the prison and then taking over the local mayor's office. He underplayed the numbers of people out on the streets. We were hearing from people in Andijan on Friday that there were thousands of people gathering in the main square. The president said yesterday that there were around 300. He said that they were mainly relatives of the armed group who were inside the mayor's office, so a version of events which is very much at odds with what we were hearing on the ground.
HANSEN: Any idea what to expect this coming week?
Ms. NORTON: It's quite difficult to say. Things are very tense in the Ferghana Valley, which is in the east of Uzbekistan, where Andijan is. There were lots of people out on the streets today. Lots of people went to the bazaar. The bazaars here are really becoming the main source of information about what's going on. So lots of people out on the streets, doing their shopping in the bazaars, talking about what's happening in Andijan, discussing the president's version of events, and really mulling it all over.
HANSEN: Jenny Norton is a Central Asian analyst for the BBC. She joined us from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Thanks a lot.
Ms. NORTON: You're welcome.
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