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Uzbek Mobs Growing More Aggressive, Death Toll 80

June 9, 1989

MOSCOW (AP) _ Mobs in Soviet Uzbekistan are growing bolder, escalating their attacks on police stations despite the presence of thousands of soldiers, Izvestia reported today.

The official government newspaper said the death toll from the last six days of ethnic violence in the Fergana region of the Central Asian republic was nearing 80, and more than 800 people have been hurt.

The region’s party chief has called for ″more decisive measures″ to stem the wave of arson and murder, Izvestia said without identifying them.

″I think that, taking into account the serious nature of the situation, we don’t have enough force yet for its stabilization,″ Shavkat Yuldashev told the newspaper. ″Apparently, more decisive measures are needed.″

Alexi Yastrebov, a deputy to the Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies, said in an interview Thursday that the parliament was asked by Communist Party officials in a closed session to approve tougher action in Uzbekistan.

A group of deputies, including some from Uzbekistan, were scheduled to report on the latest developments to the Congress today before a decision was taken.

The government has brought in more than 9,000 Interior Ministry soldiers, and given them the authority to open fire to protect themselves, but held back on sending in regular army soldiers, official media say.

Reporting on recent attacks on police and the Interior Ministry building in the troubled region’s city of Kokand 1,500 miles southeast of Moscow, the newspaper said a crowd of thousands managed to seize three pistols and force police to release 12 detainees from jail.

″The actions of the uncontrolled elements are becoming more aggressive,″ Izvestia said. ″More and more often attacks are being made on buildings of the Interior Ministry and police. The goal is to sieze weapons. The population is extremely agitated.″

Rioters have torched more than 550 houses and nearly 300 vehicles, and 300 people are now detained, it said.

The killing started June 3 in a rampage between ethnic Uzbeks and the Meskhi Turk minority, who were forcibly resettled in the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan by Josef Stalin in 1944.

Yuldashev proposed ″addressing the problem of returning them to their homeland″ in southern Georgia ″as quickly as possible.″

More than 10,000 of the Meskhi Turks have been evacuated to the safety of army camps. After the recent attacks on the police station in Kokand, the mob invaded a Meskhi neighborhood and set more than 80 houses and six cars on fire, Izvestia reported.

An Uzbek deputy who spoke at parliament this morning did not comment directly on the violence, but he described harsh living conditions in the cotton-growing southern republic.

Adil Yakubov, head of the Uzbekistan Writers’ Union, painted a grim picture of the men and women laboring in the cotton fields under hot sun and among poisonous chemicals.

He compared workers in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields to slaves brought to America to work on plantations, but said the slaves were better fed and their descendants now make up ″the best of American sports and arts.″

Uzbek children, he said, are so underfed they are often not accepted into army combat units.

Yakubov echoed claims by Uzbek activists that cotton production imposed by Moscow has forced Uzbekistan to neglect feeding itself. If cotton is so important,″ Yakubov complained, ″Why is our price for cotton the lowest in the world?″

Meanwhile, he said, the campaign to boost cotton production has forced farms to poison the environment with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. ″Our region is on the verge of ecological disaster,″ he said.

The current violence began, according to Uzbek reports, with a marketplace dispute over the price of strawberries that ignited smouldering resentment among Uzbeks over what they see as preferential treatment of the minority.

Update hourly