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UZBEKISTAN PRESIDENT ACCUSES ISLAMIC RADICALS OF ANDIZHAN RIOT

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TASHKENT, May 14 (RIA Novosti) - The president of Uzbekistan said fierce clashes in Andizhan, a large city in eastern Uzbekistan, had been orchestrated by Hizb ut Tahrir (the Islamic Liberation Party that has branches in many countries). "Those who seized the administration building in Andizhan are members of Hizb ut Tahrir's local branch, Akramia," president Islam Karimov told a news conference in Tashkent. Karimov said he had held talks with the man leading the group that had seized the administration building, who had declined to give his name.

According to President Karimov, he was in Andizhan at 7.30 this morning and immediately came into talks with the rebels. The president said they must leave the building and suggested taking them in buses wherever they wanted, promising security for them.

In response the gunmen demanded to release the local prison inmates linked to Hizb ut Tahrir and Akramia, said the president.

"We have never satisfied and will never satisfy political demands advanced by criminals," Islam Karimov noted, giving no further details.

"With dusk the fighters split into three groups and escaped in different directions as they saw the circle around them narrowing <...> Some of them infiltrated the neighboring republic of Kyrgyzstan," said Karimov.

In his words, the gunmen talked to someone in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan on their mobile phones.

"We did not want bloodshed, we did not want to use force," the president stressed.

President Karimov said ten policemen had been killed in the clashes, while the gunmen's death toll had been higher. Western media reports said over 50 people had been killed and 96 injured during the Andizhan riot.

Karimov said the authorities had done their best to avoid bloodshed even when several rebel snipers appeared on the administration building's roof.

"Religious fanaticism is the most dangerous thing. I do not want it to take hold of young people's minds. I want our country to develop into a democracy, but gradually, rather than through a revolution," President Karimov emphasized.

Hizb ut Tahrir al Islami is a political and religious organization that was established in the middle of last century. Its aim is to turn the world into a caliphate through jihad, or holy war, and make all Muslims observe Sharia, the code of Islamic laws. The organization originated in Uzbekistan, but then spread its activities to the neighboring Central Asian republics of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

A group of gunmen raided the prison and several administrative buildings in Andizhan on Friday. Yesterday, the government sent troops into the city. At night they stormed and ousted the rebels from the buildings. Uzbekistan's national information agency said nine persons had been killed and 34 wounded in the clashes.

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