'I See Troops
By Galima Bukharbaeva
15 May, 2005
assault began at 5.20pm local time. At least nine people were killed
in the first volley of gunfire, their fellow demonstrators carrying
their blood-covered bodies inside the compound of the Andijan regional
government building, which was being held by the protesters. We witnessed
the first shootings, but after that we were unable to count the casualties.
The assault by government security forces was not unexpected. The protesters,
who had taken control of the local government building, were anticipating
that the authorities would use force and had prepared as best they could.
Barricades went up, fashioned out of furniture, even safes, dragged
out of the government offices. In the compound, men were making Molotov
In the course of
Friday, at least 10,000 people gathered on the square outside - some
participants said it was nearer 30,000.
Then the eight-wheeled
armoured personnel carriers, or APCs, appeared out of nowhere. The first
column of vehicles thundered past without taking any aggressive action.
But a second column,
arriving five minutes later, suddenly opened fire on the crowds, without
even slowing down to take aim.
One IWPR reporter
had a lucky escape when a bullet tore right through the rucksack he
was wearing, making a neat hole in his notebook and press card.
Unarmed people on
the square, who included women and children, started screaming and trying
to run away. Inside the regional government, a core of protesters who
had got hold of Kalashnikov assault rifles moved outside to defend themselves.
It was pretty clear they would lose. Overhead, helicopters circled,
clearly spying out where the biggest concentrations of people were.
The nucleus of this
popular rebellion was formed by friends and relatives of 23 men on trial
this week at Andijan's city court. After hearings on 10 and 11 May,
judges adjourned the session to consider their verdict.
For the thousands
of people waiting outside the courtroom, the sentence was a foregone
conclusion. The men were members of a dangerous Islamic group called
the Akramia, prosecutors insisted, and deserved to be locked up.
The defendants and
their many supporters said they were innocent local businessmen, being
framed by a regime determined to find 'enemies'. Akramia was a total
fiction dreamed up by the authorities.
When I arrived on
the scene, I was able to piece together some of the events that led
to the final explosion of public anger on the night of 12-13 May.
the brother of one of the accused, told me that straight after the court
hearings, officers of the National Security Service, the SNB, started
arresting people who had been outside the court.
The arrests continued
through 12 May, and that night people went to try to get their friends
and family members out of detention. They started at traffic police
offices, and as numbers built up they moved towards a military unit
based in the city, where they forced troops on to the defensive and
As the night went
on, they went to the regional SNB building, where the newly- arrested
people were being held. There was gunfire as SNB officers held off the
crowds. Protest leaders said at least 30 people were killed, although
there have been no verified casualty figures.
By 1am on Friday,
the crowds had stormed the regional government building, and they were
to hold onto it and the surrounding area of the town until the APCs
rolled in the following evening.
There seems little
chance now that this confrontation will be resolved without more bloodshed.
Uzbek interior minister,
Zokir Almatov, spoke to one of the protest organisers, Kabuljon Parpiev,
by phone before the troops moved in. At first he seemed receptive to
their demand for the release of Akram Yuldashev - a jailed Andijan man
accused of founding the Akramia group.
But when Almatov
rang back later, his mood had changed and, according to Parpiev, 'he
said there would be an assault, even if they had to kill 300 or 400
As I left the scene
to file this report, the shooting was continuing.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting is a London-based independent
non-profit organisation supporting regional media and democratic change.
For further details on this project visit IWPR's website: www.iwpr.net
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005