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Kyrgyzstan appeals to Russian military as clashes kill 62

Kyrgyzstan’s interim leader on Saturday asked Russia to send troops to help quell ethnic violence in the south of her country, which she warned had spiralled “out of control”.

Interim President Roza Otunbayeva appealed to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to send military forces to help stem the violence after a second day of ethnic clashes that have killed 62 and wounded almost 800 people.

“I have signed a letter asking Dmitry Medvedev for third-party forces to be sent to the Kyrgyz Republic,” Otunbayeva said in a nationally televised address.

“Since yesterday the situation has got out of control. We need outside military forces to halt the situation. For this reason we have appealed to Russia for help.”

Otunbayeva discussed her country’s situation with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin by phone late last night, the Russian government added.

The provisional government — which seized control of the ex-Soviet state in April — had also appealed to retired police and army officers to go to the city of Osh to halt a descent into civil war.

“The authorities will be grateful for any volunteers who are ready to help prevent civil war in the south of Kyrgyzstan,” said government spokesman Azimbek Beknazarov, the 24.kg news agency reported.

Thousands of Uzbek women and children have fled the violence to the nearby border with Uzbekistan, an AFP reporter witnessed, raising the spectre of a possible humanitarian crisis.

The border remains sealed from the Uzbek side.

“We just want peace in Kyrgyzstan, we don’t want any wars with the Kyrgyz people…. But most of the Kyrgyz people don’t understand and we are suffering from their actions,” an elderly Uzbek woman, who declined to give her name, said at a border crossing near the Kyrgyz village of Markhamat.

“They are shooting us, killing us!”

People reached by telephone in Osh described an increasingly violent and chaotic situation, with gunfire echoing across the city amid what seems to be a near-total collapse of central authority.

Andrea Berg, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who has been trapped in a guest house in Osh since the fighting began, pleaded for intervention by the international community.

“The situation here looks terrible. The government doesn’t have any more control over the city. It’s war,” she said.

“There is no way for a safe passage out to the airport and the Uzbek neighbourhoods are burning. Shootings everywhere. Horrible phone calls from people locked in these mahallas (Uzbek neighbourhoods) seeing how their neighbours are being slaughtered.”

Violence erupted in Osh overnight Thursday when brawls between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz escalated into running street battles. Cars were smashed and burned and buildings set on fire throughout the city.

The toll of wounded may rise sharply once the government is able to enter the Uzbek neighbourhoods, Berg warned.

The unrest also spread to the Bishkek overnight Friday, where one medical official told AFP that 27 people had been hospitalised, some in critical condition.

Ethnic Kyrgyz protesters there had Friday commandeered cars and minibuses to travel south to Osh, while police used dogs to break up protests, the Kabar news agency reported.

Since last April’s uprising, which ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev and left 87 people dead, foreign leaders have warned of the danger of civil war in the strategic Central Asian state, which has both US and Russian military bases.

Berg’s call for an international peacekeeping force was seconded on Saturday by former Kyrgyz prime minister Felix Kulov, one of the country’s most respected political leaders.

“The interim government should immediately contact the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the UN Security Council asking for the immediate introduction of peacekeeping forces,” he told reporters in Bishkek.

Russian and Chinese leaders called for calm Friday as the unrest topped talks at a regional security summit in Uzbekistan.

The United States, whose air base outside the capital Bishkek is seen as vital to operations in Afghanistan, also called for a swift return to order.