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(New York) - Kyrgyzstan's interim government should immediately initiate a thorough and impartial investigation into the violence in the country on April 6 through 8, 2010, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should request international support for the investigation, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch research found that both security forces and demonstrators contributed to escalating the conflict, which left at least 85 people dead and hundreds wounded. The findings are based on interviews with more than 30 victims and witnesses and review of photo and video material. Human Rights Watch shared with the interim government its preliminary findings and provided recommendationsto ensure that the investigation would be in accordance with international standards.

"This is the most serious incident of political violence in Kyrgyzstan since its independence," said Andrea Berg, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Victims have a right to see justice done."

On April 6 and 7, violence broke out in several cities as government forces tried to prevent opposition supporters from holding nationwide political gatherings, or kurultai, to protest increased energy tariffs, growing corruption, and the government's closure of several media outlets.

On April 7, security officers forcefully tried to disperse what started as a peaceful demonstration in Bishkek, the capital. When demonstrators resisted and started throwing stones, the authorities used tear-gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades,  further enraging the crowd. As the situation escalated, security forces fired on the demonstrators with live ammunition.

Under international law, authorities may use lethal force only as a last resort and with constraint, but it is unclear in several cases whether the use of lethal force by the security forces was strictly necessary. In one case documented by Human Rights Watch, for example, security forces shot dead an unarmed 50-year-old man who walked up to the fence of the White House, the main government building in Bishkek, seeking to negotiate.

Demonstrators also contributed to the escalation of the situation, however. Some demonstrators armed themselves with weapons that they took from the police, Human Rights Watch found. Demonstrators physically attacked police officers, leaving several hundred  officers injured. At one point demonstrators fired at the White House from an armored personnel carrier that they had hijacked. 

Clashes ended in the early hours on April 8 as opposition supporters took control of the White House. The ousted president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, eventually left the country, on April 15, leaving a 14-member interim government of opposition leaders in charge.

The situation in Kyrgyzstan remains tense. On April 17, Bakiyev supporters reportedly took control of the regional administration in the southern city of Jalalabad.  On April 19, several hundred policemen in the southern city of Osh went on strike, demanding that the government increase their salaries and open an investigation into the April 7 events.

Reports about looting and marauding crowds continue. For example, on April 19, five people died and many more were injured when several hundred Kyrgyz looters tried to seize the land and homes of ethnic Russian and Meskhetian Turks in the village of Mayevka, near Bishkek.

"The government clearly has a challenging task to ensure public safety for everyone, but it should not delay this investigation," Berg said.

The interim government has said that it would like to see an international investigation of the events, but it has yet to make a formal request to any particular institution. The longer the government waits before it makes an official request for international assistance, the more difficult it will be to reconstruct accurately the events that caused the violence, and secure necessary forensic evidence, Human Rights Watch said.

"In the highly politicized situation in Kyrgyzstan, international participation in an investigation will help to safeguard against accusations of bias,"  Berg said. "But the government should act quickly." 

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