Monday, November 29, 1999

Kyrgyz leader in turbulent south to ease tensions

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Kyrgyzstan interim leader Roza Otunbayeva flew to the country's south on Friday to help ease tensions in the conflict-torn region after the worst ethnic violence in the Central Asian state in two decades.The government has struggled to contain the violence in the south which remains turbulent after clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz killed about 200 people last week.A government spokeswoman said the acting president would meet local leaders and visit the wounded."The aim of the visit is to acquaint herself with the situation and take necessary measures," she said.Some 400,000 people have fled since June 10, some into refugee camps in neighbouring Uzbekistan. Many are running short of water and food, crammed into clay huts and make-shift camps in the arid plains straddling the Ferghana valley.Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake, the top U.S. official for Central Asia, landed in the Uzbek border city of Andizhan early on Friday to meet refugees and inspect camps.Home to U.S. and Russian air bases, Kyrgyzstan has been volatile since a revolt in April toppled its president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, and brought the interim government to power.In the city of Osh, its streets lined with charred ruins and strewn with rubble after last week's rioting, Uzbek neighbourhoods have set up barricades, effectively drawing demarcation lines separating them from Kyrgyz parts.Sporadic attacks have continued in Osh and other parts of the south but major violence has subsided since Monday.(Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko in Bishkek; Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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