Rioting in the southern town of Osh escalated over the course of Friday with more than 1000 people involved in street fighting that left 46 dead and over 600 wounded by the end of the day, according to the health ministry.
Interim government declared a state of emergency and the situation remained tense by nightfall. Extra troops were sent from the capital Bishkek to quell rioting and a curfew was imposed as the authorities struggled to regain control.
Riots broke out in the country's second largest city on Thursday night, reportedly after a fight between locals and members of the city's Uzbek population.
Despite the curfew groups of young men were still roaming the streets last night and gunshots were heard intermittently in the evening. An Interfax correspondent reported that residents of Osh built barricades to prevent rioters from approaching their homes last night. They are blocking streets with large rocks, concrete blocks, and trucks and are arming themselves with stones and sticks. Some of them possess firearms, reports Interfax. Gas supplies and power to much of Osh were cut on Friday morning, as the fighting escalated.
"Periodically, one can hear gun shots here. Helicopters are flying over the city, armored vehicles moving on the roads. But people are not thinking to disperse. There are many young people with assault rifles. The people who built the barricades are not letting cars and people in there. The square is patrolled by Internal Troops soldiers," Dzhamilya Kaparova, who chairs the Osh human rights group, Ensan Diamond, told Interfax yesterday afternoon.
Fighting broke out on Friday morning as groups of young men commandeered trucks and cars to travel to Osh in what most commentators says was an uprising organised by fractions that surrounded the ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
About 1,000 people forced three vans to stop near Bishkek's central market, after which they were occupied and left for Osh. "We will seize other buses as well so that all those wishing to go to Osh may do so," one of the rioters told Interfax.
The fighting seems to have been divided mainly along ethnic lines between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Tensions are running highest in the southeastern part of the city, which is home to the ethnic Uzbek population.
By the afternoon the local interior ministry officials said they had regained some control, but the situation remained, "difficult but controllable," the press service of the city commandant office told Interfax on Friday.
More than 1,500 law enforcement officers were deployed over the course of the day and more police were called in from surrounding towns.
The capital Bishkek was also destabilised by the events in Osh. A large group of 100-300 men were walking the capitals central streets, chanting various slogans and local media reports some threw rocks at policemen. Riot police moved into the western part of Bishkek and broke up a crowd of 200-300 of young men after they started to seize more cars and trucks with the intention of travelling to Osh, reports Interfax.
Several hundred people moved from the central market to the parliament building to demand transport to Osh. Timur Sariyev, finance minister in the current interim government, came out to the crowd and tried to dissuade it from going to Osh and was near seized by the protestors. He was rescued at the last minute by police.
The government has blamed the supporters of ousted president Bakiyev for instigating the riots in an attempt to destabilize the country ahead of a referendum to change the constitution.
"According to the latest reports, yesterday's riots were prompted by several domestic conflicts, and to our big regret the parties failed to refrain from violence," Roza Otunbayeva, head of the interim Kyrgyz government, said in a statement issued on Friday.
Inter-ethnic clashes between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are also fueled by supporters of the old authorities, observers said.
There is a danger that the fighting will spread to other towns in the region. There were reports of similar disturbances in the southern districts of Uzgen, Karasui and Aravan, all in the Osh region.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Friday for a halt to the violence in Kyrgyzstan, his spokesman said.
"The secretary general is deeply concerned about reports of renewed violence and several deaths in Osh, Kyrgyzstan," the spokesman said in a statement."He calls for calm to be restored and urges all involved to show the utmost restraint to prevent further losses of life," his spokesman said.
The EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy expressed "deep concern" over the violence.
"I call upon all involved in the clashes to cease violence immediately and allow the inhabitants of the city of Osh and the surrounding region to return to normal life," Catherine Ashton said in a statement.
Russian president Dmitry Medvedev also called on an end to the fighting during a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Meeting held in next-door Uzbekistan on Friday.
"All the problems of Kyrgyzstan have internal roots. They are rooted in the weakness of the former authorities and their unwillingness to take care of the people's needs. I believe all the existing problems will be resolved by the Kyrgyz authorities. The Russian Federation will help," he said.
Some 280 Kyrgyz have been applying to the Russian embassy for visas since fighting began in April.
Kyrgyz health officials said relief planes carrying a group of 27 doctors and humanitarian aid set off from Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek, to Osh earlier in the day.
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