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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
Uzbek town still burying its dead
Uzbek women pray at the grave of their relative killed 13 May in Andijan, 17 May 2005.
The death toll may never be known
Funerals are continuing in Uzbekistan's eastern town of Andijan four days after a bloody crackdown on protesters.

The death toll from Friday's violence remains uncertain, but hundreds of people are thought to have been killed.

The BBC's Monica Whitlock in Tashkent says many Uzbeks believe the bodies of victims are being released slowly to keep the death toll in doubt.

The US and UK governments have condemned the violence and have called for political reform and transparency.

A delegation of foreign diplomats based in Tashkent was expected to visit the scene of the clashes on Tuesday, but their visit was postponed.

More details have been emerging of the violence which erupted in the town's central square. Troops opened fire on a crowd of thousands, who were protesting about the trial of 23 local businessmen on charges of Islamic extremism, and about long-term poverty and unemployment.

Eyewitnesses have told the IWPR media development charity that troops were still shooting injured people dead three and a half hours after the gunfire began.

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

The eyewitnesses also said that the bodies of women and children were concealed by the authorities and have not been released for burial, although this is difficult to verify.

The Uzbek authorities say soldiers only shot at gunmen from a radical Islamist group. They say 10 soldiers and "many more" protesters were killed in the violence.

Andijan was quiet on Tuesday, with schools closed and many locals choosing to stay at home. The army is continuing to keep firm control, says our correspondent, with manned checkpoints at all junctions, and a dusk to dawn curfew.

An eye-witness said funeral processions have been winding through many lanes in the old quarter of Andijan.

In the capital, Tashkent, the first newspapers have been published since Friday. All lead with a large picture of President Karimov and carry verbatim his speech on Saturday, in which he blamed the violence on a brainwashed criminal sect, seeking to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic state.

But a group of some 30 protesters gathered outside the US embassy to publicise what they believe really happened.

They stood quietly holding banners, one of which read: "Get out, killer of the people - Andijan we are with you."

People are afraid of this ruthless government of Karimov and are desperate to get rid of him. Believe me - there is no Islamic factor, it is just to save his position
Javid, Tashkent

Foreign diplomats are expected to be able to see Andijan for themselves on Wednesday or Thursday, but our correspondent says it is clear they will not be able to walk freely around the city or talk to local people without supervision.

The government says this is necessary for their security as "there are many criminals at large."

International condemnation

The US has said it is "deeply disturbed" by reports that troops fired on unarmed civilians.

"We have been encouraging the Karimov government to make political reforms," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"This is a country that needs... pressure valves that come from a more open political system," she said.

UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw is expected to raise the reported killings when he visits Washington on Tuesday.

Washington has been under pressure to take a tough line against the Uzbek regime, which is a key US ally in the region.

The unrest has also spread to the eastern border town of Korasuv, where locals seized control of government buildings on Saturday. The town is under heavy military surveillance.

Our correspondent says the international spotlight on the events in Andijan makes it difficult for the Uzbek authorities to move in to Korasuv with force, and yet there are no signs of negotiations.

Neighbouring Kyrgyzstan has registered more than 500 refugees from Andijan. Some said troops shot at them as they tried to cross the border and that some died.

The refugees, mostly men but including some women and small children, say they fear government reprisals if they return to Uzbekistan.





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