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Last Updated: Friday, 20 May, 2005, 20:15 GMT 21:15 UK
Defiant Uzbeks stage new protest
Women at a checkpoint in Korasuv, Uzbekistan, 19 May 2005
Some Uzbeks who fled across the border have started to return
Several hundred people have held a rally in the Uzbek town of Korasuv, where residents threw out their leaders last week in a popular protest.

More than 500 people gathered outside government buildings, a day after Uzbek troops took back control of the town.

Unconfirmed reports said up to 80 people had been arrested.

The Uzbek government has rejected calls for an international inquiry into last week's bloody crackdown on protesters in the nearby city of Andijan.

The alleged massacre in Andijan triggered last week's uprising in Korasuv. Although the authorities are back in control of Korasuv, protesters are angry at the arrest of two of the leaders of the rebellion.

Uzbekistan has said 169 people died when soldiers put down a "bandit uprising" in Andijan on 13 May. An army source told the BBC 500 people were killed.

The unrest in Andijan began when a group of men stormed the town's prison and freed 23 businessmen accused of being Islamic extremists. A large protest was then staged, joined by hundreds of residents as well as the freed prisoners.

Witnesses said troops fired indiscriminately at civilians in the crowd.

The US has said it is disappointed that President Islam Karimov has ruled out an international investigation during a phone conversation with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"We continue to press both publicly and privately for a credible and transparent assessment of the events in Andijan," said US state department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Afraid to return

A week after the violence, the Uzbek authorities say women and children who fled to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan can now return.

But they are still searching for the missing prisoners, and men over the age of 16 will be checked on their return.

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

In a small refugee camp just over the Kyrgyz border, several Uzbeks told Reuters news agency they dared not return.

"We feared they would finish us off in Andijan so we decided to flee to Kyrgyzstan," said Khasan Shakirov, 27, who said his two brothers had disappeared.

In the capital, Tashkent, there are signs of disquiet. During Friday prayers at one of the main mosques, the imam said in his sermon that people "shouldn't trust the rumours" about what had happened in Andijan.

But outside the mosque, BBC reporters spoke to a number of people who criticised President Islam Karimov's handling of the unrest.

"The president says religious extremists are to blame, but we know it was Karimov who ordered ordinary people to be shot," one man said.

Everything should be investigated up to the foremost deepest causes of uprising, where it will be found out that the roots lie in social well being, rather than in religious fanaticism
Mr Muradilla, Termez, Uzbekistan

"He is the number one terrorist."

Another resident said: "I think it's all the government's doing. Now they are accusing religious people, but religious people would never harm others."

Uzbekistan, the most populous Central Asian country, with 26 million people, is seen as an ally in the US-led "war on terror".

The US has an airbase in the south of the country which provides logistical support to operations in Afghanistan. However, the US has announced it is scaling back operations at the airbase following the unrest.

The head of US Central Command, Gen John Abizaid, said it was "prudent move" and was not intended to be a political message of disapproval to Mr Karimov.

See the troops in Uzbekistan


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