Kyrgyzstan interim President Roza Otunbayeva [Telegraph profile] on Sunday issued shoot to kill orders to the nation's military as violence continued against ethnic Uzbeks. The orders were issued [LAT report] after the reservists were activated and sent to quell the ethnic conflict [Guardian backgrounder] that has been primarily focused in the southern cities of Osh and Jalal'abad. The reserves were activated after the Russian government refused a request by the interim government to send peacekeeping troops, instead opting to send a few hundred paratroops to protect a Russian military base in the country. Additionally on Sunday, Otunbayeva declared a state of emergency in the south and established a curfew [DW report] for Osh and the surrounding areas. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] expressed his concern [BBC report] over the violence on Sunday, stating that he would coordinate relief efforts with the government of Kazakhstan and the EU. The violence began on Friday for reasons that are not yet clear. The official death toll stands at 117 [AP report], but has been estimated at 200 or higher by leaders of the Uzbek community. On Sunday, an estimated 80,000 ethnic Uzbeks sought to cross the border into neighboring Uzbekistan, where the Uzbek government has been hastily establishing refugee camps.
The violence is thought to be linked to the overthrow of former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev [BBC profile], who was ousted from power in April [JURIST report]. Bakiyev's main support base was in southern Kyrgyzstan, whereas ethnic Uzbeks have been more likely to support the interim government. Another possible reason for the violence is that it was started to delay the June 27 elections in which the interim government will seek a popular mandate until elections in December 2011, and will seek approval of a draft constitution [text, DOC, in Russian]. In May, the interim government approved a draft constitution [JURIST report] that would shift power from the president to the prime minister, define Kyrgyzstan as a secular state, limit the president to one six-year term in office and increase the number of seats in parliament from 90 to 120. The draft was created by a constitutional committee that was made up mainly of representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and was advised by several international organizations. Several NGO activists disapproved of a last minute amendment to the draft entitled "On the Transitional Period," which extends the transition period until January 2012. The activists hold that the delay is unsubstantiated, and a government run by presidential decree risks corruption.