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(Osh) - The Kyrgyz government should take urgent action to protect all groups in southern Kyrgyzstan from ethnic reprisals in the wake of recent rioting, Human Rights Watch said today.  Human Rights Watch also called on the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to engage promptly with the government to ensure that it has the resources it needs to provide adequate protection.

According to the Health Ministry, at least 46 people were killed and more than 600 injured in rioting and clashes that broke out on the evening of June 10, 2010, in Osh, the largest city in southern Kyrgyzstan, and spread throughout the city.  The government declared a state of emergency and sent in the military to contain the violence and restore law and order.

"People in Osh desperately need protection," said Andrea Berg, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch who is in Osh. "The government should make sure that the military and police make it a priority to prevent violent ethnic reprisals and to protect both vulnerable communities and people who want to leave the area temporarily for safety."

The rioting began with a fight between mostly ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz gangs and developed into looting, arson, and shooting.  One Kyrgyz nongovernmental organization told Human Rights Watch that many ethnic Uzbeks, fearing reprisals, are trying to leave the city, with some fleeing to Kyrgyzstan's border with Uzbekistan. 

Gas has been shut off to the entire city to prevent fires, and some neighborhoods have been left without electricity.

Several clashes between ethnic groups broke out in the wake of a political revolt on April 6 and 7, which resulted in the ouster of Kyrgyzstan's former president, Kurmanbek Bakiev.  In May, at least five people were killed in clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Jalal Abad, about 50 kilometers from Osh.

Ethnic violence in Osh also has historic roots. Violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh over property disputes 20 years ago this month cost almost 300 lives.

Human Rights Watch said the OSCE and the UN should evaluate their capacity on the ground to determine what additional resources they might need to help provide protection from ethnic reprisals and to expand conflict mediation services. 

"There is no time to lose," Berg said. "The international community should immediately help the Kyrgyz government prevent widescale interethnic conflict. This should be on the urgent agenda of the UN Security Council."

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