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News Wrap: At Least 138 Dead in Kyrgyz Riots

June 14, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan was in turmoil today, after days of rioting by ethnic Kyrgyzs. Officials reported at least 138 people dead and 1,800 hurt, but other accounts said the numbers were even higher.

Approximately 100,000 people fled toward Kyrgyzstan’s border with Uzbekistan today. Most were minority Uzbeks desperate to escape the wave of bloodshed. The violence happens been centered in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city and only three miles from the border.

Fires still burned in sections of Osh today, where entire blocks have been destroyed. And many Kyrgyz residents defended their actions.

MAN (through translator): Whatever you see over there, all the burned restaurants and cafeterias were owned by them, the ethnic Uzbeks. And we destroyed them on purpose.

HARI SREENIVASAN: To the north, in the capital city, Bishkek, doctors said the wounded in Osh cannot get treatment.

DR. SABYR DJUMABEKOV, Bishkek Hospital (through translator): All the roads are closed. There is shooting and military operations going on. So, it’s impossible for now to leave that place.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The violence was the worst in decades between the majority Kyrgyzs just the minority Uzbeks, who make up about 15 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s five million people.

The immediate cause was unclear, but it came months after an uprising brought a new government to power. Today, the ousted president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, appealed to a Russian-led regional security bloc for more troops. The Russians did send in a battalion to protect a key air base they operate, but refused to engage soldiers in any other way.

Kyrgyzstan is also home to a major U.S. air base at Manas, critical to ongoing operations in Afghanistan. But, in Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley ruled out any direct American intervention.

P.J. CROWLEY, U.S. assistant secretary of state for public affairs: We will — we will listen to what the Kyrgyz government might — might ask, but I think, right now, our focus is how can we respond effectively within the region internationally. I don’t think we’re looking at any unilateral steps by the United States at this point.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In the meantime the Red Cross and others warned the situation was becoming critical. The violence has also spread to several other cities, but on a smaller scale.

The Israeli cabinet today approved an inquiry into the deadly raid on an aid ship bound for Gaza. Commandos killed nine pro-Palestinian activists on board the ship, but Israel rejected world pressure to allow an international probe. European foreign ministers today pressured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ease the blockade of Gaza.

In Luxembourg, Middle East envoy Tony Blair said that could happen soon.

TONY BLAIR, former British prime minister: The prime minister throughout has always drawn this distinction between keeping weapons out and allowing goods necessary for ordinary civilian life in.

I think that distinction can best be addressed through moving to the prohibited list, but all the way through, that is the key thing for Israel. They will maintain the blockade on respective arms and combat material, but they are prepared to let in goods that are necessary for people’s ordinary lives.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the Israeli inquiry plan. He said it falls short of U.N. demands for an impartial investigation.

The death toll from a flash flood in Arkansas climbed to 20 today when another body was found in the Little Missouri River. Last Friday, before dawn, heavy rain sent a wall of water through a popular campground while campers were still sleeping.

Flash floods also hit Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, today, closing several interstates and streets. Crews rescued at least 50 people, including a teenage girl clinging to a tree.

Japanese scientists have retrieved the first space capsule to return from a trip to an asteroid. It parachuted from a mother ship into Australia’s outback overnight. The larger spacecraft burned up, as planned, after a seven-year, four billion-mile journey. Helicopters then ferried the scientists to a remote desert area to pick up the payload. The capsule was flown to Japan, where scientists will try to determine if it brought back any asteroid dust.

Wall Street lost ground late in the day over new worries about Europe’s finances. That’s after the Greek government’s debt was lowered to junk status. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 20 points to close below 10191. The Nasdaq rose less than a point to close near 2244.

Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Judy.