MOSCOW, JUNE 8 -- With 78 people dead in ethnic rioting in Soviet Central Asia, the republic of Uzbekistan declared a state of emergency along its border with Kirghizia today and called on the Kremlin to send troops to end the continuing clashes.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov, appealing to the central government to intervene, warned that tensions are high and rising and that a serious conflict could erupt between Uzbekistan and the neighboring Kirghiz Republic.
Karimov imposed a state of emergency in the city of Andizhan and five surrounding districts to prevent the clashes from spilling over the border from Osh in western Kirghizia, where the fighting erupted five days ago in a dispute over land being allocated for new housing.
Sporadic skirmishes between Uzbeks and Kirghiz continued today in more than 30 villages in the three districts around Osh, an Interior Ministry official said in Moscow, as armed bands from both sides maneuvered for positions and sought revenge for those killed in earlier fighting.
Further fighting was reported this evening near Uzgen, a district about 35 miles from Osh, and Radio Moscow's Interfax news service said more people had been killed.
The violence is among the most severe to have occurred in recent years in Soviet Central Asia, where rising nationalism among ethnic groups, high unemployment and wretched living conditions have created an explosive atmosphere.
Soviet Interior Minister Vadim Bakatin warned Thursday that a "medieval nationalism" is spreading through the region and that local police were no longer able to prevent inter-ethnic clashes.
Thousands of people, armed with weapons ranging from sharpened sticks and stones to handguns and rifles, had lined the border between Kirghizia and Uzbekistan, he said, and were "spoiling to take vengeance for grievances."
The conflict in the Osh area this week is similar to earlier disturbances in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tadzhikistan, in which local disputes flared into days of ethnic clashes. In Osh, the clashes began when crowds of Uzbeks protested a decision by local authorities legalizing the construction of unauthorized housing for Kirghiz on an Uzbek collective farm.
The death toll in the Osh area has risen to 78, according to the official Soviet news agency Tass, and at least 330 people have been wounded. A total of 249 houses have been burned to the ground in the region.
The state of emergency was declared around Andizhan after more than 15,000 Uzbeks tried to cross the border into Kirghizia on Thursday evening to aid their relatives in the neighboring republic.
"In Andizhan and surrounding areas, people from other parts of Uzbekistan kept coming with demands to be taken to Osh to help relatives who are there," the Interior Ministry spokesman said. "They attempted to break through the cordon, and seven people were killed."
The crowd had tried to disarm the soldiers blocking their way, according to Tass correspondents on the scene, and the troops fired into the air and called for armored units to reinforce their lines.
The government newspaper Izvestia, in a dispatch headlined "The conflict is not calming down," reported today that tensions were continuing to rise and suggested the casualties were higher than acknowledged.
In his appeal to the central government to send combat troops to restore order, Karimov warned that "there is a real danger of the events in the Osh region degenerating into a conflict between the two republics."
There also were fears, Soviet officials said, of retaliatory attacks on the 70,000 Kirghiz living in the Andizhan region of Uzbekistan.