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Americas

US dispatches top envoy to crippled Kyrgyzstan

media Smoke rises from the residential area of the city of Osh Reuters

Kyrgyzstan has begun three days of mourning for nearly 180 killed in ethnic riots, as the United States sends an envoy to deal with the growing humanitarian crisis. As fresh violence flared, thousands of refugees were still trying in vain to pass through the sealed border with Uzbekistan.

The United States’s top central Asia diplomat, Robert Blake, is due to meet officials in the capital Bishkek on Friday and Saturday to assess the country's needs.

UN experts called for urgent action to end the violence and highlighted the plight of women, children and the elderly, who made up the vast majority of those fleeing the conflict.

The humanitarian crisis continued to grow as refugees began to reveal the full horror of atrocities, including rape and torture, committed in the five days of fighting.

Several thousand ethnic Uzbeks are still waiting to cross the border into Uzbekistan, following the Uzbek authorities' decision to close the frontier after accepting tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbek refugees.

A plane carrying the first foreign aid for refugees arrived Wednesday in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan, local officials said.

A spokesman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said 200,000 people had been displaced within the country in addition to the 75,000 who sought safety in Uzbekistan.

The clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz around the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad have claimed at least 178 lives and injured 1,866 people, according to the latest figures from the Kyrgyz health ministry.

There were reports of ongoing artillery fire exchanges after the Kyrgyz government claimed that clashes were dying down.

Roza Otunbayeva, the leader of the interim government that took power after president Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in April, said there was no need for foreign peacekeepers.

"We hope to deal with this situation with our own forces," she said, saying the clashes were now "on the wane".

The International Committee of the Red Cross said "several hundred people have been killed in the fighting".

It was too early to say exactly how many, as some victims had already been buried and might not have been counted, while other bodies had not yet been collected, it said in a statement.

Both the United States and Russia maintain vital military facilities in Kyrgyzstan, an ex-Soviet republic of pivotal strategic importance in the volatile central Asia region, notably to Nato operations in Afghanistan.

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