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Uzbekistan has ended the uprising that began with the jailbreak of 23 supsected Muslim terrorists by having soldiers fire on a crowd of protestors, sending thousands running from the demonstrations that appeared to shake the Uzbek autocracy:
Soldiers loyal to Uzbekistan's authoritarian leader, a U.S. ally, opened fire on thousands of demonstrators yesterday to put down an uprising that began when armed men freed 2,000 inmates from prison, including suspects on trial for suspected Islamic extremism.
Bursts of automatic gunfire continued to rattle across the center of Uzbekistan's fourth-largest city today as troops loyal to hard-line President Islam Karimov sought to put down the insurrection, Agence France Presse reported.
The death toll from yesterday's violence in Andijan was not known. The government said nine died before the shootings in the square but gave no overall figure. Witnesses said dozens may have been killed by the troops, who rode into the square in a truck behind an armored personnel carrier as helicopters hovered overhead.
Authorities said security forces had regained control of an administration building seized earlier in the day by armed protesters. Hostages taken by the demonstrators as human shields at the building were released, a high-ranking Uzbek official said.
This stands in contrast to protests in other Central Asian former Soviet republics, but then the Uzbek protests were not the same democracy movements, either. They started by freeing Islamists from prison, which pointed to a completely different set of motivations. Unlike the revolutions in Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, the people who went to the streets employed violence as a medium for their message, reportedly holding hostages to extort concessions from the Uzbek government. They also released over 2,000 prisoners to join them in the streets.
Unfortunately, the Uzbeks learned a lesson from their neighbors, which was that delay only escalates the problem. It took them less than 48 hours to reach the Napoleonic solution of firing into the crowd to disperse them and regain order. Andijan has become a debacle for all sides and promises to present a particular problem for the US and George Bush, especially considering Bush's focus on democratization. This incident exposed President Karimov as something less than the poster boy for Bush's foreign policy, and even though our work with the Uzbeks might be critical for our war on terror, Andijan will raise eyebrows about our choice of bedfellows.Sphere It View blog reactions
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