UN mounts airlift for Kyrgyzstan refugees

More than a quarter of a million people have fled ethnic fighting in southern Kyrgyzstan, the UN refugee agency says.
More than a quarter of a million people have fled ethnic fighting in southern Kyrgyzstan, the UN refugee agency says.

Fighting between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek people in southern Kyrgyzstan has left hundreds dead, and thousands of Uzbeks have crossed the border to Uzbekistan.

Tensions have been high in the area since the toppling of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. When Mr Bakiyev was ousted in an uprising on 7 April 2010, his stronghold in the south became the centre of instability.

As Roza Otunbayeva, the interim president, struggled to control the south, well-established criminal elements and drug dealers exploited the power vacuum. The spark for communal violence was provided by a clash between Kyrgyz and Uzbek gangs.
It soon turned into street fighting among the youth in Osh. Fuelled by rumours of atrocities on either side, angry mobs from other towns and villages arrived in Osh, forcing large numbers of ethnic Uzbeks to flee.

The minority Uzbek population makes up 15% of Kyrgyzstan's five million people. In southern towns such as Osh, Uzbeks are a minority.

The country's instability can have a wider regional impact in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan has borders with China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It is Uzbekistan that has been drawn into the crisis first. Thousands of ethnic Uzbeks fleeing violence in Kyrgyzstan have been massing at the border.

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