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Kyrgyzstan holds first trial after ethnic riots

BISHKEK (Reuters) - The first trial in Kyrgyzstan for those accused of taking part in ethnic unrest in June ended with five people sentenced to life in jail for murder and other charges and long prison terms given to three others.

An ethnic Uzbek woman looks through a damaged sewing machine at her house, destroyed during fierce ethnic clashes, in the city of Osh August 21, 2010.

Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet nation in Central Asia which hosts U.S. and Russian military air bases and lies on a drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan, saw several days of the worst ethnic violence in its modern history three months ago.

Officials say that around 400 people, and possibly hundreds more, were killed. Fierce clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks engulfed the cities of Osh and Jalalabad and nearby villages in southern Kyrgyzstan.

A court in the village of Nooken near Jalalabad found seven men and a woman guilty of killing a policeman, fomenting ethnic hatred, instigating violence and organising public unrest, Kyrgyz human rights activist Sardar Bagshibekov told Reuters.

Judge Nurgazy Alymkulov sentenced five men, including a local human rights advocate, to life in prison. The woman and a man got 20 years each, and one man was sentenced to nine years.

“I think the trial was very biased, heavily dominated by the prosecution. Strong pressure was put on defence lawyers and the accused,” Bagshibekov said by telephone from the courtroom.

“The relatives of the accused were not admitted to the court,” he added, saying that policemen made up the majority of the audience present during the trial. Eight armed men in black masks were present in the courtroom. Four policemen with submachine guns guarded the iron cage holding the accused.

The court could not be immediately reached for comment.

CHRONICALLY UNSTABLE

Kyrgyzstan’s interim government has struggled to impose its authority in the south since assuming power after a bloody revolt toppled the president in April.

As tension remains high and enmity divides ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south, security concerns persist in the run-up to a parliamentary election set for Oct. 10, a key step in turning Kyrgyzstan into Central Asia’s first people’s democracy.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said last month that some Kyrgyz government troops had taken part in mob attacks against Uzbeks in June, clearing away self-defence barricades with their armoured vehicles to unleash mobs of looters on Uzbek quarters.

HRW said more than 2,000 homes had been torched during the clashes. More than 400,000 people, mainly ethnic Uzbeks, were displaced.

Human rights activist Bagshibekov said all of those sentenced on Wednesday were ethnic Uzbeks.

Western governments and human rights bodies have urged Kyrgyzstan to hold a just investigation into the ethnic riots.

Kyrgyzstan’s prosecutor general’s office said some 280 people had been charged with committing more than 4,000 crimes, including 72 people suspected of committing murders.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe plans to send 52 of its unarmed police monitors to southern Kyrgyzstan after next month’s parliamentary election to help keep the peace in the region.

But the move has been given a hostile reception by the local ethnic Kyrgyz population.

(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov, Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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