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Kyrgyzstan riots led to ethnic cleansing; government blames Bakiyev

The Kyrgyzstan riots that ethnically cleansed the city of Osh of much of its Uzbek population could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe. The interim government blames ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, and says the situation is improving.

By Correspondent / June 16, 2010

Uzbek women and children stand near a barricade made from cemetery fencing, in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, Wednesday. The head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told journalists in Germany that the Kyrgyzstan riots have displaced 200,000 people and sent an additional 75,000 fleeing into neighboring Uzbekistan.

Sergei Grits/AP



Nearly a week of politically charged ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan has left hundreds dead and more than 200,000 displaced in what human rights workers on the ground are describing as a growing humanitarian catastrophe.

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Officials of the interim government in the capital, Bishkek, are adamant that the six days of rioting between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan's impoverished south were triggered by agents of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted in a bloody April street revolt, and subsequently went into exile in Belarus.

"This was a carefully planned action by the enemies of the interim government, aimed at undermining authority and disrupting the constitutional referendum," interim government member Almazbek Atambayev told journalists in Bishkek. "The information available to our special services confirms that all of these measures were funded by the Bakiyev family, particularly Bakiyev’s youngest son, Maxim."

Ex-president Bakiyev has denied any connection to the upheavals. A constitutional referendum is scheduled for next week.

No matter who's responsible, analysts say a massive ethnic cleansing has effectively taken place in the southern city of Osh that could affect the demographics of Kyrgyzstan and its internal stability for years to come. The country is home to Russian military installations and the only remaining US air base in Central Asia, which is a crucial supply depot for the NATO war effort in Afghanistan. The near destruction of Osh's ancient Uzbek community will be difficult to reverse, they say.

The official death toll stands at 179, but interim government head Roza Otunbayeva said Tuesday that the actual figure is probably many times higher. The head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, told journalists in Germany Wednesday that the riots have displaced 200,000 people and sent an additional 75,000 fleeing into neighboring Uzbekistan. "What is happening is already a tragedy and it could become a catastrophe," he said.