Uzbeks Force Government to Rebuild Bridge

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Hours of rioting left the police cars and government offices of this Uzbek border town torched, but by the end of the day, Korasuv's residents counted a victory they said was worth the chaos: They could cross the bridge to Kyrgyzstan (search) that their government dismantled two years ago.

The rioting here broke out Saturday, a day after soldiers fired into a crowd of protesters in Andijan, Uzbekistan's (search) fourth-largest city about 30 miles away, killing as many as 500 people. But while the Andijan bloodshed threw much of the region into harsh anxiety, there was an air of jubilation in Korasuv on Sunday.

A local administrator was trapped atop a burned police vehicle for hours until he agreed to have the bridge across the Shakhrikhan-Say River restored, according to residents. The bridge leads to the Kyrgyz town of Kara-Suu, to a market that had been key to residents' attempts to scrape out a living.

"It was a popular uprising. There were no terrorists here, just ordinary people," Furkat Yuldashev, 32, said Sunday as he stood with other townspeople near the bridge.

Uzbek authorities tore up the floor of part of the footbridge in early 2003, purportedly to help block infectious diseases in Kyrgyz food products. But locals saw it as an attempt by the government to grind them down, denying them access to the better-developed economy and comparatively more open politics of Kyrgyzstan.

Some Uzbek traders, desperate to keep their incomes going, tried to cross the river on ropes clandestinely strung above the rushing waters; many drowned.

For more than two years, resentment brewed. It exploded on Saturday, apparently touched off by news of the Andijan violence.

When protesters took to the streets of Korasuv, they set police and tax inspectors' offices on fire, looted a bank and burned five police cars.

Rebuilding the span took just a few hours and on Sunday crowds of traders eagerly streamed across the bridge into the Kara-Suu market.

In Andijan, however, there was only sorrow as stunned residents cleaned blood off streets guarded by troops and armored vehicles. One man said he saw the bodies of three people apparently killed by a soldier Sunday, two days after government forces put down the uprising.

"The city was burying its victims throughout the entire day, and the people are very angry at the president for his order to open fire at protesters," said the man, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Ilkhom.

About 500 bodies were laid out in rows at an Andijan school, according to a respected doctor in the town, seeming to corroborate other witness accounts of hundreds killed in the fighting. Relatives were arriving at the school to identify the dead, said the doctor, who spoke by telephone on condition she not be named.

And in Pakhtabad, about 20 miles northeast of Andijan, Saidjahon Zaynabitdinov, head of the local Appeal human rights advocacy group, said that government troops had killed about 200 demonstrators on Saturday. There was no independent confirmation of his claim.

President Islam Karimov on Saturday blamed Islamic radicals for the trouble in Andijan, which began when protesters raided a prison to free 23 men on trial for religious extremism.

But if the estimates of 500 dead hold true and if Uzbek forces were behind the killing — as most reports indicate — Friday's violence would be one of the worst incidents of state-inspired bloodshed since the massacre of protesters in China's Tiananmen Square in 1989, where hundreds and perhaps thousands died.

Korasuv's people say their outburst was driven by deep poverty. No government forces were visible around Korasuv on Sunday, apparently reflecting the authorities' reluctance to engage in another conflict following the riots in Andijan that stoked fears of unrest across the Fergana Valley in eastern Uzbekistan.

"Now, we will also set up a bazaar here in the town and life will return to normal," said Doston Khakimov, 18.

That doesn't mean anger at Karimov's authoritarian regime is waning.

"It's necessary to get this ruler out," said a 75-year-old man named Umarjon-Aka, dressed in a traditional black robe and dark blue hat. "For how long can they torment the people?"