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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 May, 2005, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
'High death toll' in Uzbekistan
A body laid out after violent clashes in Uzbekistan
There were wildly different estimates of the death toll
Thousands of protesters have reappeared on the streets of Andijan in Uzbekistan despite heavy bloodshed on Friday.

President Islam Karimov blamed the violence on Islamic extremist "criminals". He said about 10 soldiers, and "many others", were killed.

However, witnesses said troops opened fire on unarmed civilians. Some said they had seen at least 200 bodies.

The government said it was back in control of the city on Saturday, and had retaken administrative buildings.

But huge crowds were on the streets, shouting "killers, murderers" and demanding the president step down.

"What kind of government is this?" one of the protesters said to the Associated Press.

"People were raising their hands up in the air showing they were without arms but soldiers were still shooting at them."

'Bodies on trucks'

The violence erupted after days of peaceful protest in the eastern city of Andijan, against the imprisonment of 23 local business leaders accused of Islamic extremism.

A mob reportedly seized arms from a local garrison, before raiding the prison where the men were held and freeing them, along with thousands of other inmates.

Most populous central Asian former Soviet republic, home to 26m people
Ruled since independence in 1991 by autocrat Islam Karimov
Accused by rights groups of serious human rights abuses, including torture
Rocked by violence in capital Tashkent in 2004
Government says radical Islamic groups behind violence

They also took control of administrative buildings in the city and took government workers hostage, according to reports.

Just before dusk, troops moved in and opened fire on the crowds in the city square.

Men, women and children fled in panic. One woman spoke of "indiscriminate firing", and said she saw "bloody corpses" lying in a ditch.

Helicopters hovered overhead as cars and buildings burned, reports said.

President Karimov told a press conference that the unrest was planned by Islamic militants linked with the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir movement, who wanted to overthrow the government.

He said the leaders of the uprising had been on the phone to Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan during the siege.

"Their aims are hatred and aversion to the secular path of development. These are unacceptable for us," he said.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov
President Karimov blamed the violence on Islamic militants

On Saturday civilians dragged six bodies from an abandoned administrative building, placing them at the foot of a nearby monument to an Uzbek poet.

Witnesses said they had seen troops loading dozens of bodies onto trucks.

Hospital officials told the BBC that at least 50 had died and many more were wounded throughout the day.

The city appeared calmer on Saturday, though the occasional shot could be heard in the background, a reporter for the AFP agency said.

Troops were standing by in neighbouring streets as people began to fill the square.

Journalists said they were being expelled by soldiers who had set up a cordon around the city.

I think the West should rethink its relationship with Uzbekistan
Bauyrzhan Meirmanov, Shymkent, Kazakhstan

Authorities in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan said thousands of terrified Uzbeks had gathered on the border, and about 500 had managed to break through.

Friday's violence prompted alarm around the world.

In the US, White House spokesman Scott McClellan called for both sides to show restraint.

The EU criticised Uzbek leaders for not paying enough attention to human rights, the rule of law and relieving poverty.

Mr Karimov has taken a tough line on security since a spate of suicide bombings last year, blamed on Islamic extremists.

But critics say the president is using the threat of extremism as a cover to crush dissent.

Andijan, in the densely-populated Ferghana Valley, has a long tradition of independent thought, and is eyed by the government with suspicion, says the BBC's Monica Whitlock in Tashkent.

Thousands of local people have been locked up.

Along with high poverty and unemployment, it has pushed many people beyond the limit of endurance, she says.

See the scene in Uzbekistan

In pictures: Uzbek stand-off
13 May 05 |  In Pictures
Key excerpts: Karimov address
14 May 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Eyewitness: Uzbek protests
13 May 05 |  Asia-Pacific
What lies behind Uzbek protests?
13 May 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Uzbekistan's most orderly protest
12 May 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Central Asia: At-a-glance
13 May 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Uzbekistan
14 Dec 04 |  Country profiles


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