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Newspaper: Dozens Killed in Ethnic Unrest in Soviet Central Asia

June 6, 1989

MOSCOW (AP) _ Dozens of people have been killed and nearly 200 injured in ethnic rioting in the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, and more than 7,000 troops have been sent in to quell arson and brawling, a newspaper said today.

The rampage in the Fergana Valley, 1,500 miles southeast of Moscow, involved members of the Uzbek majority, Tadzhiks and Kirghizians vs. an ethnic Turk minority, official and unofficial sources said.

The Soviet Union’s latest ethnic violence, fueled by chronic unemployment in the region and ethni accusations of preferential treatment, was marked by ″vicious clashes between thousands of furious people,″ Soviet television reported.

Komsomolskaya Pravda, the newspaper of the Communist Party youth organization Komsomol, said 194 people were hospitalized - 185 men and nine women - and that ″several dozens already died.″

The paper said it received the information Monday from Aziz Nasirov, the Komsomol leader in Uzbekistan. The paper and another, Socialist Industry, said police officers and Communist Party workers were among the casualties.

The government daily Izvestia said soldiers and Interior Ministry officers also were hurt and more than 200 people detained.

Almaz Estekov, a Moslem activist in Moscow, said representatives of the unofficial grass-roots movement Berlik in Tashkent told him by telephone that 13 police officers were among the dead. That figure could not be confirmed officially.

Representatives of Berlik had gone to Fergana in an effort to quell the violence, members of the Congress of People’s Deputies said earlier.

Estekov said the sources told him refugees arriving from the area said that resentment had been smoldering in the area over accusations the ethnic Turks were receiving preferential economic treatment.

He said the violence broke out in the Fergana market in a dispute between ethnic Turks and Tadzhiks and Kirghizians. A Tadzhik was killed and a Kirghizian was injured, he said. Uzbekis joined the other two native ethnic groups against the Turkish minority, Estekov said.

On Monday, a Congress deputy from the region said at least two people had been killed and thousands of homes were burning. Official media previously reported 72 injured.

A Moscow telephone operator today said she was unable to put calls through to Fergana because communications with the region had been disrupted by the unrest.

Television showed smoking hulks of houses and cars, the remains of Sunday night’s violence. It said ″armed extremists in cars and on motorcycles″ would ″appear and disappear unexpectedly,″ injuring people and torching buildings.

Interior Minister Vadim V. Bakatin told the television: ″This outburst has been provoked by somebody. So far I can’t say by whom. But it’s clear that some evil forces are involved who think that the worse things are, the better.″

Bakatin, interviewed in Uzbekistan, said 6,000 Interior Ministry troops were brought in Sunday after a curfew was imposed in the area and more were on the way. Komsomolskaya Pravda put the number of troops at more than 7,000.

The Turk-Meskhetis, a nation of about 300,000, were deported from their homeland in southern Georgia during World War II, purportedly because they might support Turkey if it attacked the Soviet Union.

They were resettled in Central Asia and share many cultural traits with the Uzbeks, including Islam and similar languages.

There is no history of conflict in the region between Turks and Uzbeks, the ethnic majority, Turcologist Vadim Tyutyunnik said in a telephone interview.

Estekov said the Turks are Shiite Moslems while the Uzbeks are Sunni, and that may have fueled the conflict.

The Congress, in an appeal read on television Monday by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, called on ″those involved in ethnic clashes to turn to the voice of reason and stop the bloodshed.″

The spiritual leader of Central Asia’s millions of Moslems, Mufti Mahammadsadyk Mamayusupov, also appealed for calm.

In Margelan, one of the towns in the region, party leaders retreated into their headquarters behind the protection of a ring of soldiers instead of trying to hold a dialogue with protesters, Vremya said.

Ethnic tensions have flared repeatedly in various parts of the Soviet Union in the atmosphere of increased tolerance created by Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost. The openness that has permitted freer expression of political views also has released long-stifled grudges.

Update hourly