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titantoo
06-07-2005, 11:18 AM
June 7, 2005
Rights Group Calls Uzbekistan Crackdown a Massacre

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 7:01 a.m. ET

MOSCOW (AP) -- The Uzbek government's crackdown on protesters can only be described as a massacre, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday, appealing to the United States to suspend cooperation with the Central Asian country until it permits an independent international investigation.

The New York-based group said it interviewed 50 victims and witnesses who testified that government troops fired repeatedly on protesters gathered in a square, killing many as they fled into surrounding streets. It did not attempt to estimate the number killed, but the accounts were in line with estimates in the high hundreds.

''The scale of this killing was so extensive, and its nature was so indiscriminate and disproportionate, that it can best be described as a massacre,'' the group said in its report on the May 13 unrest in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan, presented at a news conference in Moscow.

The international Red Cross said Tuesday that Uzbekistan's government is denying it access to people injured or arrested in the unrest. The agency also has been unable to establish contact with regional authorities in the eastern city of Andijan, the Red Cross said in a statement.

''We now feel that a clear response from Tashkent has become urgent,'' said Reto Meister, Red Cross chief for Asia and the Pacific, referring to the Uzbek capital.

Human Rights Watch said that if the Uzbek government continues to resist calls for an international investigation, Washington should withdraw its military base from Uzbekistan and ''bring to an end its post-Sept. 11 strategic partnership'' with the country. It said the European Union should also suspend its cooperation.

''Our aim is not to conduct an investigation into the events,'' Meister said, ''but to assess and respond to needs and to monitor the conditions and treatment of those arrested.''

ICRC delegates have been able to travel without restriction to Andijan and other nearby places but have been unable to access the injured and detained or regional authorities.

The bloody day began with a jailbreak in which 23 businessmen who had been on trial for alleged Islamic extremism were freed, along with hundreds of other prisoners. The government says four police officers and two soldiers were killed in attacks on police and military barracks.

Human Rights Watch said the attackers appear to have met minimal resistance. A bigger gun fight ensued at a National Security Service building, on the way to Babur Square, where the attackers overcame the single guard at the local administration and took over the building.

The crowd quickly grew to thousands, who took hostages after government forces fired on them. Witnesses said between 25 to 40 hostages were taken.

The government refused protesters' demands for negotiations. Human Rights Watch said soldiers sealed off the square and moved in, shooting from armored vehicles and the tops of nearby buildings. Hundreds of protesters were cut down as they sought to escape, the group said.

There was another ambush at the Kyrgyz border, when about 600 protesters showed up after walking for about 12 hours. Eight people were killed, the group said.

The report said the government denied medical aid to the wounded in Andijan -- leaving many in the streets overnight -- and quoted witnesses as saying soldiers shot and killed wounded persons in the morning.

It also accused the government of trying to cover up the carnage by removing all bodies except those of young men fitting the profile of the militants it would blame for the violence, by arresting some witnesses and intimidating others and trying to seal off Andijan to journalists.