Guest post: hilzoy
From the CNN:
"Hundreds of people have been killed by government soldiers in the wake of violent anti-government protest in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan, Russia's Interfax news agency report human rights monitors as saying.
A U.N. official and news reports said Saturday that Uzbeks fled to neighboring Kyrgyzstan as well toward the Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad.
The violence began Thursday when a group of local citizens angry about the arrest of several prominent business owners stormed the prison where they were being held.
At one point, about 10,000 protesters gathered in the city center to demand the resignation of Uzbek President Islam Karimov and his government, who are allies of the United States. The president's office described them as criminals and extremists. (...)
Interfax quoted Saijakhon Zainabitdinov, head of the Andizhan human rights group Appeal, concerning the death toll.
"Government troops opened fire on civilians on Friday evening and hundreds of people died. At dawn today, the dead bodies were taken away on five vehicles -- three Zil dump trucks, one Ural heavy truck and one bus. All of the vehicles were filled with bodies," Zainabitdinov said."
The demonstrations have reportedly spread to the nearby city of Ilyichevsk, where refugees are trying to flee across the border to Kyrgyzstan.
There is very little reporting from Abijan itself, since the city has basically been sealed off. However, here's EuurasiaNet on the background to the protests:
"The trigger for the unrest in Andijan was the arrest of 23 local businessmen on suspicion of membership in a radical Islamic group, called Akromiya. Uzbek authorities allege that the group -- supposedly founded by Akram Yuldashev, who is currently serving a 17-year prison term -- is an off-shoot of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the pan-national organization that operates underground in Central Asia, advocating the non-violent overthrow of the existing political order in the region and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Some government critics contend that Akromiya does not exist. They add that Karimov's administration is exploiting fears of Islamic radicalism in an attempt to stamp out any potential threat to its authority.
Several residents in Andijan told a EurasiaNet correspondent that the 23 men taken into custody were legitimate entrepreneurs who were active in numerous charitable activities, but who did not take part in radical Islamic activity. The militant action to open up the local prison appeared to be driven by a desire to free the 23 defendants from custody. The prison housed a significant number of Uzbeks who had been convicted on charges relating to Islamic radical activity, in addition to those convicted of violent crimes and other felonies.
State-controlled Uzbek media attributed the unrest in Andijan to Islamic "extremists," "criminals" and "bandits." Karimov critics vigorously disputed that characterization, saying that most of the Andijan protesters were not affiliated with any radical group. "This protest was the result of his [Karimov’s] economic policies," a high-level representative of the Sunshine Coalition, an Uzbek opposition alliance, told EurasiaNet. "The people are being driven by a sense of desperation." "
Reuters, which seems to have had someone on the ground, quotes one rebel as follows: " "This is the limit. Our relatives started to disappear," one rebel leader, who declined to give his name, told Reuters inside the administration building. He said he had been freed from jail. "We suffered too much, people have been driven to despair, it has to be stopped." "
"Andijon is home to approximately 300,000 people near the tip of Uzbekistan's densely populated Ferghana Valley region, which juts wedge-like into neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Times are hard. With work and money scarce, many people, especially women, have turned to selling goods at bazaars to make ends meet. But Uzbek officials have set out to eliminate the practice. An 11 March report by International Crisis Group (ICG) detailed the harsh measures the government has taken to crack down on this makeshift form of commerce since 2002, introducing tariffs, registration requirements, and other regulations to discourage individual sellers. Particularly onerous for individual traders are restrictions on imported goods, which are often their most saleable wares. Traders' desperate efforts to avoid border controls can prove lethal. According to the ICG, dozens of individual merchants drowned in a canal on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border in the summer of 2003 while attempting illegal crossings.
In early September, sellers who plied their wares at Andijon's Kholis market and in the vicinity of the city's Central Department Store were forced to stop because of new government resolutions requiring sellers of imported goods to undergo individual registration. On 7 September, a group of nearly 500 women halted traffic on Boburshoh Street in protest. The city administration and law-enforcement authorities reacted with restraint, entering into talks with the women.
The women argued that the new regulations would increase costs for them, forcing them to sell goods at a 50 percent markup instead of the 10 percent markup they had been charging. One of the women told an RFE/RL correspondent that individual trade was now a mainstay of the local economy since the closure of a factory that had employed 2,000-3,000 people. When the plant shut down, the Kholis market sprang up in its place."
In his Inaugural Address, President Bush said this:
"Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world:
All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.
Democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile can know: America sees you for who you are: the future leaders of your free country.
The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it."
The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people you must learn to trust them. Start on this journey of progress and justice, and America will walk at your side."
Yesterday, at a press briefing, Scott McClellan was asked about the situation in Uzbekistan, and he said this:
"We have had concerns about human rights in Uzbekistan, but we are concerned about the outbreak of violence, particularly by some members of a terrorist organization that were freed from prison. And we urge both the government and the demonstrators to exercise restraint at this time. The people of Uzbekistan want to see a more representative and democratic government, but that should come through peaceful means, not through violence. And that's what our message is."
Uzbekistan, whose leader tortures his people, and has on occasion boiled them alive, is our ally. I understand the reasoning behind making some sort of temporary deal with them when we went to war with Afghanistan. But, while I don't know enough about military logistics to say for sure, I wonder why we can't do whatever it is we are doing there from bases in Afghanistan, or in Kyrgyzstan, now that the shooting war is over. Do we have to have Karimov as an ally? Can it possibly be worth either the moral cost or the damage to our interests that will come of having Uzbeks remember us as the country that stood by their dictator while he tortured them, that granted him a waiver so that we could keep giving him foreign aid despite his appalling human rights record, and that has even shipped to Uzbekistan prisoners we were unwilling to torture ourselves?
I want it to be true that "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." Now oppressed people are standing for their liberty against one of the most brutal and repressive dictators in the world, and all we can do is urge "restraint" and express "concern" about the outbreak of violence, concern we oddly failed to muster so long as violence was directed only by the government towards its citizens.