IMAGE: Uzbek border guards
Mikhail Metzel  /  AP
Uzbek border guards check identity documents at a checkpoint in the town of Korasuv on Thursday.
updated 5/19/2005 7:20:19 AM ET 2005-05-19T11:20:19

Government troops on Thursday retook an eastern Uzbek town from rebels who said they would build an Islamic state, arresting the group’s leaders, amid a growing international outcry over security forces’ actions against unarmed demonstrators last week.

The United States — which counts Uzbekistan’s authoritarian President Islam Karimov as an ally in its war against terrorism — strengthened its condemnation of last week’s violence in the eastern city of Andijan. The government denies its troops fired on unarmed civilians, despite witness accounts to the contrary. Opposition groups say hundreds were killed.

In nearby Korasuv, a town of 20,000 on the border with Kyrgyzstan, government forces swept in overnight to retake it from rebels who said they were in charge there a day earlier, residents and a government official said. They arrested the rebel leader, Bakhtiyor Rakhimov, and several aides who’d announced plans to rule according to Islamic law, his family said.

Rakhimov’s family said that 30 special forces troops broke into their house before dawn, firing a warning shot and brutally beating him. “They beat him with rifle butts on the head and kicked him,” said Rakhimov’s wife, Gulchakhra, her eyes welling with tears.

Uzbek National Security Service spokesman Alimjon Turakulov said that authorities were back in charge in Korasuv. He refused to comment on the arrests or give further details.

About 20 troops in full gear, with Kalashnikov assault rifles slung across their shoulders, were deployed at the town’s central square. Smaller groups of soldiers could be seen on guard near official buildings, but the town looked calm, with people walking around.

The border with Kyrgyzstan remained open, indicating that government forces felt firmly in control of the town.

Hundreds reported killed
The government action came after troops fired on protesters in the nearby Uzbek city of Andijan last Friday, killing hundreds, according to witnesses, and causing an international outcry.

Image: Bakhtiyor Rakhimov
Efrem Lukatsky  /  AP
Bakhtiyor Rakhimov, the leader of rebels who claimed to control the Uzbek border town of Korasuv, was reportedly beaten and arrested on Thursday.
Karimov’s government has blamed the unrest on militants, though activists say demonstrations last Friday were by civilians protesting against the government. An AP reporter saw troops opening fire on protesters in the city of Andijan on Friday.

The government cites 169 dead in Andijan, but an opposition party and a human rights activist say more than 700 were killed — more than 500 in Andijan and about 200 in Pakhtabad — most of them civilians. Other opposition groups estimate the total death toll at 200 to 300.

“Reports being compiled paint a very disturbing picture of the events and the government of Uzbekistan’s reaction to them,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington. “It’s becoming apparent that very large numbers of civilians were killed by the indiscriminate use of force by Uzbek forces.”

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the U.S. government wanted “more open and responsive government” in Uzbekistan.

Facing such international criticism, Karimov’s government apparently opted for a less heavy-handed approach in Korasuv as it sought to prevent the unrest from spreading across the densely-populated Fergana Valley, brimming with Islamist sympathies.

Rakhimov and his men in Korasuv did not appear to be armed on Wednesday, but he said they would “fight even with knives” if attacked. “We will be building an Islamic state here in accordance with the Quran,” he told The Associated Press Wednesday.

An opening for militants?
While the uprising in Andijan focused largely on social and economic demands, observers have said that the unrest could provide Islamic militants with an opening to promote their own goals.

Uzbek officials took foreign diplomats and journalists on a lightning-quick tour of Andijan on Wednesday, but the delegation was kept blocks away from residents, leaving little chance for an objective assessment of Friday’s violence.

“What we need now is a systematic process of openness that will enable the international community to make an authoritative assessment of the scale and nature of what happened here,” British Ambassador David Moran said.

The top U.N. human rights official called for an independent investigation.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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