Ethnic Clashes in Kyrgyzstan Kill Dozens

BY Larisa Epatko  June 11, 2010 at 11:41 AM EST

The government of Kyrgyzstan declared a state of emergency Friday in its second largest city Osh after ethnic fighting there killed at least 37 people and injured more than 500.

The Central Asian country underwent political upheaval in April, when violent protests ousted former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. A provisional government led by former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva took his place.

Gun battles began Thursday night between ethnic Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks, and by Friday witnesses reported seeing buildings and vehicles ablaze.

“Aravan street is completely destroyed, dozens of cafes and buildings are burning — it’s the same picture in Cheryomushki. It’s like being in Chechnya,” Bakyt Omorkulov, a member of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, a non-governmental group, told the Associated Press.

“About a thousand youths armed with batons and stones gathered Thursday evening in the centre of Osh,” Azamat Ussmanov, a local resident, told Agence France-Presse.

“They broke shop windows and the windows of residential buildings, burned cars. Several fires broke out in the town.”

The government deployed armored vehicles, troops and helicopters to the scene, and set an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew until June 20.

The violence poses a test for the interim government, which plans to hold a vote on a new constitution on June 27 and parliamentary elections in October.

Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek hosts the U.S. military base Manas, which provides support to operations in nearby Afghanistan. A recent dispute over the interim government’s decision to tax fuel sold to the base prompted the U.S. military to stop refueling tankers at Manas, though flights to and from Afghanistan have continued, the AP reported.