Opposition Counts 745 Deaths

ReutersIndonesians protesting the Uzbek crackdown at a rally in Jakarta on Tuesday.
ANDIJAN, Uzbekistan -- An opposition leader said Tuesday that her party had compiled a list of 745 people allegedly killed by government troops in Uzbekistan, the highest estimate so far, and that many were shot in the back of the head.

But authorities contradicted the claim, saying the toll was far lower.

Nigara Khidoyatova, head of the Free Peasants Party, said the toll was expected to rise, with bodies still being buried in mass graves under the watch of security service agents. She said her party arrived at its figure by speaking to relatives of the dead. "The count hasn't yet finished," she said.

Last week's unrest was the worst since the country won independence in 1991. The government, which denied firing at civilians, has blamed Islamic extremists for the violence.

Prosecutor General Rashid Kadyrov said Tuesday that 169 people were killed last week in Andijan. Thirty-two were government troops, Kadyrov said, and he indicated that the others were militants. "Only terrorists were liquidated by government forces," he said at a news conference, with President Islam Karimov at his side.

However, an AP reporter and other journalists witnessed troops opening fire on the crowd at Andijan's central square.

Khidoyatova said 542 people were killed in Andijan on Friday and another 203 people died in Pakhtabad, about 30 kilometers to the northeast, on Saturday.

"Soldiers were roaming the streets and shooting at innocent civilians," Khidoyatova said. "Many victims were shot in the back of the head."

In Pakhtabad, virtually all the victims were women and children apparently trying to flee violence by crossing into neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Khidoyatova said. Others gave similar accounts.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it was "deeply disturbed" by the reports that Uzbek authorities fired at the demonstrators, and it called for political reform in the country.

But it also criticized protesters for taking up arms and said it was concerned that Muslim extremists who had been detained at the prison were now at large.