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Uzbekistan cuts mobile communications amid reports of unrest


TASHKENT, May 26 (RIA Novosti) - The Uzbek authorities have cut mobile communications in a number of regions in the Central Asian country after reports of a military crackdown and violence in the Andijan Province bordering Kyrgyzstan.

Eyewitness reports of explosions and Uzbek tank and troop movement around Khanabad, near the Uzbek border, emerged from Kyrgyzstan early on Tuesday morning after media said the Uzbek authorities were conducting a military crackdown.

"In Khanabad and also in adjacent regions mobile communications are not operating. They say that cell operators have been blocked on the orders of the local authorities," a source said, adding that people living along the border with Kyrgyzstan could not contact their relatives in Khanabad.

Although Uzbek government officials have not made any comment on the reports, the Prosecutor General's Office said a criminal case had been opened after gunmen assaulted a police checkpoint in Khanabad on Tuesday. There were no casualties reported in the attack.

"A criminal case has been opened after the checkpoint attack," a spokeswoman said, adding that the situation was stable in Khanabad and under the control of law enforcement agencies.

Svetlana Artykova was unable to confirm or deny media reports that a police station and a national security building had also come under attack.

Uzbek media outlets contacted by RIA Novosti have also reported that the situation remains calm in the city of Andijan, the site of a notorious army crackdown on protests in 2005. The incident, in which several hundred people were shot dead by troops, sparked international criticism of the Uzbek government, and severely damaged relations with several former allies.

Kyrgyzstan shut its border with Uzbekistan on Monday, after shots were heard coming from Andijan and reports from the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry of a shootout in Khanabad, where several people were believed to have been injured.

"From the Kyrgyz side near the border crossing, traces of blood can be seen on the territory of the neighboring state," a ministry spokesman told RIA Novosti.

The Russian-language Fergana.ru agency, covering Central Asia, said a blast was heard on Monday night coming from the Khanabad police department. The agency said all cafes, restaurants and public places had been closed in the town.

The agency cited local sources as saying state security forces had been carrying out "an operation to neutralize unidentified extremists and terrorists."

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