MOSCOW, JUNE 10 -- The death toll following recent battles between ethnic groups in Soviet Central Asia is now 115 and the hardest hit areas are under the control of the army and the Interior Ministry, state-run media reported today.
The main fighting was in the holy city of Osh in Kirghizia, a mainly Moslem republic. Soviet television showed burned-out cars and houses and other signs of the violence that began June 2.
Fighting now is only sporadic, but "tensions are still running high" in Osh, the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported. Armored personnel carriers are stationed at nearly every corner of the city. In the Kirghizian capital, Frunze, a mass rally planned for today was canceled after Interior Ministry troops and police turned back its student organizers.
The violence between Sunni Moslems along the border of Kirghizia and Uzbekistan combines Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's two main domestic crises: tensions between ethnic groups and the desperate state of the economy.
Kazat Akmatov, a leader of the Kirghizistan Democratic Movement and the republic's writers' union, said a collapse of local authority and difficult social conditions inevitably led to the clashes between Uzbek and Kirghiz residents of Osh.
"All this time, the Communist Party leaders have been neglecting social issues, and this had led to the appearance of large numbers of homeless, destitute and socially unprotected people, often with large families to support," Akmatov told the independent news agency Postfactum.
He said 30,000 are homeless in Osh, a city of 210,000. The Central Asian republics suffer from soaring rates of unemployment, infant mortality and poor nutrition. The Communist Party leaderships in these republics are still dominated by old-guard politicians who cling to their authority and privileges despite the new leadership in Moscow.
The border between Kirghizia and Uzbekistan has now been closed, and officials have declared a state of emergency in regions on both sides of the border. Religious leaders from both the Uzbek and Kirghizian sides have been meeting in a town near Osh to help calm the tensions between the two sides.
The Soviet army newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda blamed vigilante groups for trying to stir up the violence. The newspaper said some extremists wearing stolen army uniforms had been shooting at civilians to stir up further trouble. Soviet radio said two policemen and one soldier have been among the 115 fatalities, and that nearly 500 people have been wounded in the fighting in the Osh region.