Hundreds of armed men and youths battled with steel bars and guns in the streets of Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city, on Friday, leaving at least 45 dead and more than 500 wounded in ethnic violence pitting ethnic Kyrgzy against minority Uzbeks.
This is the worst violence the country has seen since former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overthrown in April in an uprising in which 87 people were killed.
Uzbek neighborhoods were torched in the city in southern Kyrgyzstan, a power base of Bakiyev, who fled the country after being deposed. Health officials say many of the dead and injured suffered from gunshot wounds.
"Regrettably for us, we're clearly talking about a stand-off between two ethnicities. We need (to muster) forces and means to stop and calm these people down, and this is what we're doing right now," said interim President Roza Otunbayeva.
Otunbayeva's government has declared a state of emergency in Osh and several local rural districts. Troops, armoured vehicles and helicopters were sent to the city, but the fighting continues.
The ongoing turmoil in since the coup has kindled fears of a civil war. Russia and the United States, which both have military bases in the country, have appealed for calm.
Presidential elections had been set for October, but Otunbayeva said last month that she would rule until December 2011 when polls will be held.
Kyrgyzstan won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Ethnic Kyrgyz make up 69.6 percent of its population of 5.3 million people, Uzbeks 14.5 percent and Russians 8.4 percent. In the Osh region, however, Uzbeks make up some 50 percent of the population.
Author: Holly Fox (AFP/AP/Reuters)
Editor: Chuck Penfold