Eight Uzbek soldiers and three Islamic militants died in a clash near the Kyrgyz border Sunday and more than 500 Uzbeks fled to safety across the frontier, witnesses said, in spreading violence that further threatened stability in this Central Asia country.
The explosions of pent-up anger have now hit at least two Uzbek border towns in the volatile Fergana Valley. As many as 500 people reportedly were killed Friday in Andijan, Uzbekistan's fourth-largest city about 30 miles west of the Kyrgyz frontier, when government troops were called in to put down an uprising by alleged Islamic militants and citizens protesting dire economic conditions.
About 500 bodies were laid out in rows at an Andijan school, according to a respected doctor in the town, seeming to corroborate other witness accounts of hundreds killed in the fighting. Relatives were arriving at Andijan's School No. 15 to identify the dead, said the doctor, who spoke by telephone on condition she not be named.
The doctor, who also said about 2,000 people were wounded, is widely regarded as knowledgeable about local affairs. She did not say how she arrived at her estimate of wounded.
Security was tight in Andijan, Uzbekistan's fourth-largest city, as stunned residents cleaned blood off streets guarded by troops and armored vehicles. One man said he saw the bodies of three people apparently killed by a soldier Sunday, two days after government forces fired on protesters and put down an uprising.
"The city was burying its victims throughout the entire day, and the people are very angry at the president for his order to open fire at protesters," said the man, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Ilkhom.
The Uzbek Foreign Ministry on Sunday denied that government forces had opened fire on demonstrators. President Islam Karimov has said 10 government soldiers and "many more" protesters died in the Friday conflict and at least 100 people were wounded.
Karimov has blamed Islamic extremists for the uprising, in which protesters stormed a prison, freed inmates and then seized local government offices before government troops put the protest down with force. The violence was Uzbekistan's worst since gaining independence in 1991.