Townspeople Gripped by Anxiety

Almost everyone in the Fergana Valley (search) seems to know that something awful happened. Few know many details beyond that.

A day after the bloody suppression of an uprising in Andijan (search), one of the valley's major cities, residents of this eastern region near Kyrgyzstan were gripped by anxiety Saturday as they tried to piece together information.

Broadcasts by foreign TV news channels were cut off Friday, and Uzbekistan's (search) tightly controlled state TV channel was dominated Saturday by the repeated airings of President Islam Karimov's news conference where he gave his version of the violence — without any footage of the events in Andijan.

Karimov said 10 government troops and "many more" militants died and at least 100 people were wounded in the fighting in Andijan. Witnesses counted more than 200 civilians dead.

In the densely populated valley, word travels fast, even if incompletely.

Some people believed the government version that terrorists had seized Andijan and refused its entreaties to negotiate. Others suspected that the soldiers' firing into a crowd of protesters was unjustifiably brutal.

A policeman at a checkpoint on the Andijan city border asked reporters what happened on the city's main square Friday night. He shook his head disapprovingly as he listened.

"Blood only causes more blood," he said.

However, another police officer at the same checkpoint said the protesters "were trying to disturb the peaceful life of the people."

A 20-year-old resident of the town of Margilan, which appeared busy and peaceful Saturday, said he — like many other townspeople — was in the dark about what happened in Andijan. But he said he was sure events did not occur as the government was saying.

"It's because the government doesn't want it to spill over to other regions," said the young man, who gave his name only as Oibek. In tightly controlled Uzbekistan, many people resist telling journalists their full names, apparently afraid of angering Karimov's authoritarian government.

"They are hiding the truth. We know that for sure," said Lyudmila, 42, a resident of Fergana city. "On Uzbek television, it's all songs and music."

But she said she had learned from an Andijan resident who was visiting Fergana that shops, markets and schools were closed there.

Kinatkhon Buriyeva, 54, said she saw something on state TV about trouble in Andijan but "I didn't understand anything." But she said she heard from other people that some of those injured during the shooting had been brought to the Fergana hospital.

"Even though they don't say anything, we hear things," she said.

Barchinoi, 51, another Fergana resident who also gave only her first name, asked: "Is war going to come here, too?"

If so, "it's all Karimov's fault," she said. "He deserves death."