State of emergency in Kyrgyzstan

Several thousand people tried to
storm a university in Kyrgyzstan in a burst of ethnic violence that left at
least 2 people dead and more than 70 wounded, prompting the interim government
to call a local state of emergency.

Witnesses in the southern town of
Jalal-Abad said thousands of ethnic Kyrgyz advanced on the private university
that serves as the centre of the minority Uzbek community. They said gunfire
broke out as crowds approached the building encircled by a cordon of special
security forces.

Kyrgyzstan has been struggling to
maintain stability since President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted from power in
April amid deadly clashes between government forces and demonstrators that
claimed 89 lives.

In an apparent bid to secure its
grip on power, the interim government named its head, Roza Otunbayeva, as the
acting president on Wednesday — a move that requires approval in a constitutional
referendum, set for next month.

Otunbayeva responded to the violence
by ordering the state of emergency and a curfew in Jalal-Abad and the
surrounding area. She dispatched the acting interior minister to the area,
where support for Bakiyev still runs strong.

Tensions have long simmered between
ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek — both Sunni Muslim groups — in the former Soviet
nation’s restive south.

Witnesses said the crowd assembled
Wednesday in front of the university threw stones at the building and shouted demands
for the hand-over of Uzbek community leader Kadyrjan Batyrov, whom they accused
of inciting racial tension. Batyrov, a wealthy businessman, paid for the
construction of the Peoples’ Friendship University.

Batyrov alleged that the crowd was
connected to criminal elements close to the Bakiyev family. He told reporters
that the crowd “had weapons and firebombs. When they began to attack, the
police fled, and the attackers then ran into the building, smashed windows and
tried to set fire to the building.”

The interim leader said every
possible measure was being taken to defuse the situation.

“We have recently demonstrated
that we are capable of securing the peace,” Otunbayeva said in the capital
of Bishkek.