A series of gun battles have begun overnight here in Osh. I can hear periodic reports of different calibers, including automatic weaponry, coming from southern and western parts of the city. But the trilling of grasshoppers and a nearby lightening storm are making the clashes hard to distinguish from Mother Nature.
In other news, a moderate earthquake centered hundreds of miles to the southeast shook my apartment for a long minute Thursday morning. More now from the wires, which have not yet picked up the fighting.
Postscript (July 1, 2010) -- After being removed temporarily at the request of the U.S. Peace Corps, this post has been republished. According to Kyrgyzstan's president, the death toll from the violence in Osh likely exceeded 2,000. Please see current updates elsewhere on this blog.
From CNN, "Earthquake hits border region of China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan." Its report:
A moderate earthquake rattled far-western China on Thursday, near its border with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.And from UPI, "Bishkek disbands political police force." An excerpt:
The magnitude 5.6 quake hit southern Xinjiang province and was centered about 120 kilometers, or 75 miles, west-northwest of Kashi.
There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.
The Xinjiang region is seismically active. In March 2008, a powerful 7.2 magnitude quake hit a remote area of the region, followed by a series of moderate to light quakes.
The provisional Interior Ministry will no long monitor opposition groups in Kyrgyzstan, interim leaders said Thursday from Bishkek.
A statement from acting Interior Minister Bolot Sher said provisional leaders signed a measure to disband a political police force, Russia's state-run news agency RIA Novosti reports.
"From now on, the interior ministry will not monitor oppositional sentiment in connection with the analysis of the social-political situation," the statement said.
Bishkek had established an interior police force to monitor religious extremism and terrorist ideology in the country. RIA Novosti said the force was busy keeping tabs on "untrustworthy" politicians and opposition groups, however.
Update (11:15 AM, June 11, 2010) -- From the AP, "Twelve killed in new wave of unrest in Kyrgyzstan." Excerpts:
Witnesses in Osh, the country's second-largest city, reported hearing sustained gunfire late Thursday. Local media also reported that gangs of young men armed with sticks and stones smashed shop windows and set cars alight in the center.From RFE/RL, "12 Reported Dead In Kyrgyz Clashes." An excerpt:
Health Ministry spokeswoman Yelena Bailinova said 12 people have been killed and more than 120 injured. Many of the injured were being treated for gunshot wounds, she said.
Interim authorities swiftly declared a state of emergency in the city and dispatched armored vehicles and troops to the city in a bid to pacify the situation.
But local residents said shooting continued into the morning and helicopters were flying low overhead. Several buildings across the city were on fire ... It is unclear what caused the latest round of unrest, but local Kyrgyz media have reported that a brawl broke out late Thursday evening on the city's main thoroughfare.
One Osh resident told The Associated Press that he heard a 10-minute-long burst of gunfire shortly past midnight. Local media said they received reports of firing throughout the night.
Osh, which lies on the fringes of the volatile Ferghana Valley, has a large Uzbek minority and a history of ethnic violence. There seemed to be no clear evidence that the violence was provoked by ethnic tensions, however.
Russian news agency Interfax reported that seven armored personnel vehicles carrying soldiers drove into the center early Friday.
The interim government has declared a state of emergency in Osh and surrounding districts that will remain in effect until June 20. A curfew has been imposed from 8 p.m to 6 a.m.
In an emotional televised address Friday, interim President Roza Otunbayeva called for a return to calm.
"I would like to appeal in particular to the women of Kyrgyzstan. Dear sisters, find the right words for your sons, husbands and brothers. In the current situation, it is unacceptable to indulge in feelings of revenge and anger," she said.
The deaths were reported as the country's interim authorities declared a state of emergency in the city of Osh and sent in troops and armored vehicles to quell violence reportedly involving rival groups of youths.
A Health Ministry spokesman is quoted as saying 12 people have been killed and 126 hospitalized with injuries.
Reports say 1,000 or more people were involved in the violence, with groups of youths reported fighting, smashing windows, looting shops and setting fires to cars. Some reports have linked the violence to ethnic conflicts between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the region.
The interim government announced that the state of emergency was in force for Osh and three neighboring districts -- Karassu, Arava and Uzgen -- and would last until at least June 20.
Authorities have also imposed a nighttime curfew in the region.
Update (4:00 PM, June 11, 2010) -- From the BBC, "Deadly clashes in Kyrgyzstan's southern city of Osh." Excerpts:
At least 17 people have been killed in clashes in Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city of Osh, health ministry officials say.
At least 200 people were also injured when hundreds of youths fought in the streets of the southern city.
Officials say a state of emergency has been declared and armoured vehicles have been sent to the city.
The interim government has been struggling to restore order after a violent uprising in April.
Since then, there have been fears of an upsurge in violence between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks in the south.
Osh is home to a large ethnic Uzbek community, and is the power-base of the ousted president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
According to local reports, fighting broke out between rival gangs and developed into gun battles.
Reports from Osh said that a number of buildings, including cafes, a local TV channel and a theatre were ablaze ... It is not clear who is behind the violence.
It appears that the majority of the properties belonged to ethnic Uzbeks.
Firefighters tried to put out the fires, but angry youths reportedly threw rocks to prevent them doing their job.
Residents say the shooting continued into Friday morning and that helicopters were flying low overhead.
However, an Interior Ministry spokesman said the shooting had stopped and that the city was now under the control of the security forces.
Update (9:00 PM, June 11, 2010) -- From AFP, "Ethnic clashes in south Kyrgyzstan leave 37 dead." Its report:
Thirty-seven people have been killed and more than 500 wounded during ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, a health ministry spokesman told AFP on Friday.
"Thirty-seven people have now died," as a result of the ongoing violence in the southern city of Osh, a health ministry spokesman said.
Kyrgyzstan's provisional government led by Roza Otunbayeva has struggled to impose order on the volatile Central Asian state since seizing control during riots that ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev earlier this year.
Witnesses said brawls had broken out between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbek groups in Osh, once the stronghold of Bakiyev.
Update (2:00 AM, June 13, 2010) -- From AFP, "Kyrgyzstan government authorises deadly force to stem unrest." An excerpt:
The decision was taken "in connection with the ongoing clashes of ethnic groups with the use of lethal weapons, and an increasing number of victims among the civilian population," the government said in a statement.From the AP, "Russia won't immediately send troops to Kyrgyzstan." An excerpt:
Lethal force will now be authorised in order to repel attacks against police and the military, stop the destruction of government and private property and to protect civilians, the decree said.
The clashes have left 77 dead and almost 1,000 wounded.
The Kremlin says it won't immediately send Russian troops to Kyrgyzstan, which has asked Moscow for military assistance to help quell ethnic violence.
But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said Saturday that Russia would offer humanitarian assistance and help evacuate those wounded in rampages that swept Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city of Osh.