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Uzbek troops clash with protesters


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ANDIJAN, Uzbekistan (CNN) -- Clashes between security forces and protesters in eastern Uzbekistan have left several people dead after supporters of people jailed on charges of Islamic extremism stormed a prison and freed inmates, reports say.

Demonstrators in the city of Andijan told journalists at least 20 civilians were killed and 30 wounded by Uzbek security forces Friday morning. The government said nine people were killed and 34 wounded.

Protest leaders told CNN they had captured 30 Uzbek soldiers who had been firing on civilians and were holding them in the regional government headquarters.

Later, more confrontations were reported by Galima Bukharbaeva, country director of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Uzbekistan, and the Russian news agency Interfax when Uzbek forces moved on people demonstrating in a public square.

The U.S. Embassy in the capital of Tashkent issued a warden's message, saying it has "confirmed with the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs that no one will be allowed to enter or exit the city of Andijan for the time being.

"American citizens in Andijan are encouraged to stay off the streets at this time. MFA also confirms that all border crossings are at the highest stages of alert, but Americans should be able to cross."

Thousands had been demonstrating in Andijan, calling for the resignation of Uzbek President Islam Karimov and his government, who are allies of the United States. The president's office described them as criminals and extremists.

Interfax and other news agencies reported that later Friday night many of the thousands who had congregated on the square eventually left the scene, but shooting was still heard.

Radical Islamic militants have fought with Uzbek soldiers in the area for several years, but Bukharbaeva said the mostly young protesters, who have spoken over loudspeakers in the city center, denied they are connected to that rebel movement.

"They say they are not Islamic extremists. They are just ordinary people who are tired of unemployment, who are tired of injustice and they just want better living conditions," Bukharbaeva told CNN.

She reported that demonstrators controlled the city center by midday Friday, with thousands surrounding the city government headquarters. She said the regional government headquarters and a theater were burning.

Earlier, there had been reports that the headquarters building had been taken by the protesters and then retaken later by government troops, according to Interfax. But there was no independent confirmation of this.

The unrest began early Friday morning when supporters of local businessmen who are on trial on charges of Islamic extremism stormed the prison where they were held, according to Bukharbaeva.

The government said the attackers, whom they described as criminals and extremists, stole dozens of weapons from a military camp early Friday, just before storming the prison and freeing inmates.

Interfax said Karimov traveled to Andijan held negotiations with people in the city.

The Uzbek government immediately suspended distribution of CNN and Russian television channels in the country, viewers in Tashkent told CNN.

Andijan is just across the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border from the city of Osh, one of the centers of the uprising that led to the ouster of Kyrgyzstan President Askar Akayev in March.

An unrelated incident Friday morning outside the Israeli Embassy in the Uzbek capital Tashkent added to the tension and confusion. A man who carried a fake bomb was shot to death by a guard at the Israeli Embassy, the Israeli government said.

Israeli Ambassador to Uzbekistan Ami Mehl said the man refused to obey commands to stop walking toward the embassy, instead answering that he hated Israel. He was shot in the leg, but continued to move forward, Mehl said. The man was then shot and killed, he said.

Earlier in the week, the U.S. Embassy warned that it had information terrorists were planning attacks against U.S. and Western interests in Uzbekistan. Last July, the U.S. and Israeli embassies there were targeted by bombs that killed two guards.

Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic, allowed hundreds of U.S. troops to use a base near the Afghan border after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.



Copyright 2005 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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