Uzbek Troops Fire on Thousands at Andijan Rally

Demonstration turns violent as Tashkent authorities send in soldiers to shoot at crowds.

Uzbek Troops Fire on Thousands at Andijan Rally

Demonstration turns violent as Tashkent authorities send in soldiers to shoot at crowds.

Sunday, 20 November, 2005

Troops opened fire on thousands of demonstrators in the Uzbek city of Andijan on May13, bringing a bloody climax to protests sparked by a trial of local businessmen accused of being Islamic radicals.

As thousands of people including many women and children took part in a rally in the centre of the city, located in the east of the Fergana Valley, two columns of armoured cars moved in on the crowds and fired on civilians apparently indiscriminately.

IWPR’s country director Galima Bukharbaeva saw at least five blood-covered bodies lying on the ground, and many other people were injured.

Some protesters who had earlier seized Kalashnikovs and other weapons from a military base returned fire at the security forces

The crowd panicked and people ran in all directions to escape the gunfire.

There had been peaceful protests on May 10-11 outside a courtroom where 23 men were on trial on charges of being Islamic radicals – which they all deny.

But the situation suddenly escalated early overnight on May 12-13 when a group of their supporters raided a local military base and seized weapons. They then stormed the prison and freed the defendants along with all the other inmates.

Crowds appeared in central Andijan and broke into the regional government building. Reports said they also tried to capture the local office of the National Security Service, SNB, the successor to the KGB in Uzbekistan, but were repulsed.

When the troops moved in, IWPR contributors estimated there were 20,000 people gathered on the square outside the local government building.

Uzbekistan’s state-run and heavily controlled media remained tight-lipped, but shortly before the armoured vehicles went in, national TV put out a statement saying “there have been talks with the bandits all day, but they did not lead to anything. The criminals are using women and children as cover. There has not been a single death so far”.

Kabuljon Parpiev, one of the leaders of the protest, said before the assault that there were up to 50 people dead, as security forces ringing the city centre were firing shots from about one kilometre away. Other reports spoke of nine dead at this point.

The protesters had about 30 hostages – police, SNB officers and provocateurs. Rally organisers were maintaining order and people were building barricades.

Parpiev said he had spoken by phone with Uzbekistan interior minister, Zokir Almatov, asking him to secure the release of Akram Yuldashev, who is alleged to have provided the inspiration for the 23 accused (see separate story, Controversial Trial Triggered Uzbek Violence).

According to Parpiev, at first Almatov told him that he would try to get Yuldashev released, but in a subsequent phone call the minister took a tougher line, saying the judges in the case had refused the request, and that “the authorities will mount an assault on the rebels and take the city by force”.

Meanwhile, in the capital Tashkent, security guards at the Israeli embassy shot dead a man they believed was about to attack the mission.

It turned out the dead man was a homeless Russian, and the Uzbek prosecution service said its investigators had found “the man did not present any danger, as no explosives were found on him". An interior ministry spokeswoman added that the man had a record of mental illness, and that as he approached the embassy building he threatened to blow it up.

In July last year, two Uzbek police guarding the Israeli embassy died in a suicide bomb attack. There were two other such attacks at almost the same moment at the United States embassy and at the Uzbek prosecution service. All three assailants and four security guards, including the two officers at the Israeli mission, died.

This report was compiled from reports filed from Andijan by IWPR’s Uzbekistan project director Galima Bukharbaeva and from Tashkent by IWPR contributor Malik Boboev.

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