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FIGHTING CONTINUES IN TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN

Published Tuesday, March 30, 2004



"Police surrounded a group of armed militants," said an interior ministry statement read out on television. "Twenty of them blew themselves up using self-made explosive devices. Three policemen were killed and five were injured".

 

TASHKENT, 30 Mr. (IPS, with Esmer Islamov of EurasiaNet) Gun battles and bombings continued for a third straight day in Tashkent, the Capital of Uzbekistan, the Central Asia's most populous nation of 24.500.000 inhabitants. The broad scope of the violence, the full extent of which is difficult to determine due to government press restrictions, suggests that the episode may be a homegrown insurgency, rather than a strike by international terrorists.

Casualty figures for the clashes on March 30 were not immediately available, but a series of bombings and shootings starting on 29 March left at least 20 people dead and dozens more wounded, according to official reports.

Twenty militants and three policemen were killed after a spectacular hours-long siege and shootout near the residence of President Islam Karimov in the north-eastern outskirts of the capital Taskhent, the Interior ministry and witnesses said.

Several policemen and civilians were also killed during two car bombings at nearby military checkpoints that preceded the firefight, witnesses told the French news agency AFP.

Tuesday's violence followed a series of blasts and police shootouts in Tashkent and the ancient city of Bukhara Monday that killed 19 people and injured 26 others in what officials said were terror strikes.

Authorities confirmed two suicide bombings at the main bazaar in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. Unconfirmed reports of numerous other bombings and shooting were circulating in Tashkent, including a bombing late at night on March 28 near one of President Karimov’s residences.

"Police surrounded a group of armed militants," said an interior ministry statement read out on television. "Twenty of them blew themselves up using self-made explosive devices. Three policemen were killed and five were injured".

"Out of the 20 people killed, there were three women. All of the women were wearing suicide bomber belts and one of them blew herself up," the officer said.

The sound of gunfire filled the neighbourhood, with local residents estimating that the fighting occurred over an approximately a two-kilometre radius around the TTZ plant. In all, approximately 20 explosions were heard during the clash, which continued until about 2 pm.

Prolonged exchanges of gunfire could be heard throughout the day in Tashkent. Some of the fiercest fighting was reported around the TTZ tractor plant, in the general vicinity of one of President Islam Karimov’s residences. Witnesses reported hearing an explosion just before 8 am outside a neighborhood police station.

Officials later reported that a group of about nine insurgents had barricaded themselves in a house near the TTZ plant. After authorities determined that the insurgents did not have any hostages, they brought in an armoured vehicle to open fire on the house, destroying the building and killing all those inside.

Police said they believed that at least three of the dead insurgents had participated in raids carried out in the same neighborhood on March 28. They based their conclusions on the fact that pistols found on or near the dead men apparently had been taken from police during the earlier confrontation. An Interior Ministry statement said 16 insurgents and three police officers were killed in fighting around the TTZ plant.

Fighting was reported in a wide variety of other locations in the capital. On the outer edge of north-eastern Tashkent, a suicide car bomber detonated at a police checkpoint at about 9 am. Insurgents also attacked a nearby police station. Witnesses reported seeing at least three bodies, including one police officer.

About 15 kilometres outside Tashkent, two Interior Ministry troops were reported killed in a clash with insurgents. There was also an unconfirmed report of a car bombing in the Bostanlik District, in the vicinity of the Chorvak Reservoir. The report raised fears that the insurgents might have been trying to blow up the dam at Chorvak. Such an act could potentially inundate Tashkent.

While the government has claimed that Islamic radicals, with international terrorist connections, are behind the violence, no group operating in Uzbekistan, including Hizb-ut-Tahrir, have claimed responsibility and in a statement issued in London, the Hizb-ut-Tahrir denied any involvement "whatsoever" in today's explosions".

Scattered bits of information coming to light raise questions about an international terrorist connection, lending credence to the notion that the violence is a popular reaction to government repression.

While the insurgents have utilized some terrorist techniques, in particular suicide bombings, some observers in Tashkent believe the attacks may not be connected to known Islamic radical groups, such as Hizb and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Instead, it may be the work of a new group, with its origins rooted in the despair generated by the Karimov government’s stranglehold over the country’s political and economic life.

According to Dr. Mohammad Reza Jalili, an Iranian scholar teaching at the International University of Geneva, Switzerland, there are several reasons explaining the last days violence, including the autocratic and repressive nature of President Karimov’s regime; the total disregard for human rights, the appalling situation of the poor, elderly, workers and peasants who lives on a few dollars a day; discriminations against minorities, mostly the Tajiks, who are not allowed schools in Tajik language that is very near to Farsi and finally the presence of some 1.000 American troops.

In a televised address on Monday, Mr. Karimov claimed that Islamic radicals, in concert with international terrorist groups, had been planning the attacks for up to eight months.

However, some eyewitness accounts raise doubts about assertions of an international connection. First, some reports indicate that the insurgents were poorly armed. The account that some insurgents took pistols from police officers would appear to substantiate these reports. At the same time, the bombs employed by the insurgents appear to be crudely fashioned, with limited explosive force, assembled with locally available components. Some observers feel that if either the Hizb or the IMU had been involved in the attacks, the insurgents would have been better equipped.

The international community has generally accepted the Karimov government’s contention that the attacks are the work of international terrorists. In particular, the US officials indicated that the attacks would serve to strengthen the US-Uzbek strategic alliance. The Bush administration has emerged as Karimov’s primary backer in recent years, in large part because Uzbekistan is home to a US military base that is used for ongoing anti-terrorist operations in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The United States embassy in Tashkent had warned Monday that extremists might be plotting more terror attacks and advised US citizens in the country to be on "the highest alert."

"The attacks are yet another example of the importance of continued cooperation against those who would stop at nothing to achieve their misguided goals", US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

There is a growing belief among Uzbeks that the attacks constitute a reprisal against a rapacious police force. Fuelling this view is the fact that most of the attacks to date have targeted police officers, while avoiding strikes at government buildings and other strategic installations. The car bombing at the Chorvak reservoir, if confirmed, would undermine this theory, however.

Many Uzbeks seethe over the arbitrary and corrupt action of agents of the state’s security apparatus.

At bazaars across Uzbekistan, police brutality is on display every day. This EurasiaNet correspondent was at the Chorsu bazaar in Tashkent recently, observing numerous police shakedowns of vendors, many of whom operate illegally to evade punitive government taxation. These shakedowns were conducted in plain view. In one particularly troubling incident, a police officer viciously kicked an elderly woman who did not move out of the way fast enough. ENDS UZBEKISTAN FIGHTING 30304

Editor’s Note: Esmer Islamov is the pseudonym of a freelance journalist specializing in Uzbek political affairs writing for EurasiaNet.

 

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As of January 2009, this site is definitely closed, but you can follow Safa Haeri on his new blog: DAMAVAND at http://wwwdamavandsafa.blogspot.com


FIGHTING CONTINUES IN TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN-Main
President Islam Karimov



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