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A mob of outraged and disaffected Uzbeks have freed 23 Muslim defendants from the prison where they awaited trial on terrorism charges, and created a riot in the streets of Andijan. Soldiers have been taken hostage and the government has forbidden news agencies from the area, while Uzbekistan's neighbors have sealed their borders:
Outrage over the terror trial of 23 Muslims exploded into broader unrest in eastern Uzbekistan on Friday when armed protesters stormed a jail to free defendants, clashing with police in violence that brought thousands of protesters into the streets. At least nine people were killed and dozens wounded, witnesses and officials said.
One protester, who put the death toll as high as 20, said 30 soldiers were being held hostage because they were shooting at demonstrators. Two of the dead were children, Sharif Shakirov, a brother of one of the defendants told The Associated Press.
President Islam Karimov and other top officials rushed to the eastern city of Andijan, where the government insisted it remained in control despite the chaos, though it blocked foreign news reports for its domestic audience.
The unrest prompted neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan, former Soviet republics like Uzbekistan, to seal their borders.
This presents a problem for the United States, which has troops based in Uzbekistan to track Islamist groups in the region. So far, the rioters have only demanded more economic freedom and the end to the trials against Muslims, but if the instability continues, the former Soviet republic may find itself teetering into full collapse.
Unlike their Kyrgyz neighbors, the Uzbek gunmen on the streets do not appear to want democratization or a reversal of a fraudulent election. Until now, the protests in Andijan have been peaceful but rather unremarkable. Those earlier protestors appeared to have more in common with the Kyrgyz and other Central Asian nations moving towards democracy and away from strong-man rule. Whether the gunmen represent a more radical wing of this same movement or something else entirely is unclear, but given that their first objective was to free Muslims on trial for terror, it looks like the latter. Registan, as always, has more on the Central Asian front.Sphere It View blog reactions
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