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Asia Crisis

US envoy in Kyrgyzstan, Bakiyev blamed for violence

* U.S. assistant secretary to meet Kyrgyz leader

* Uzbek president blames outside forces for unrest

BISHKEK, June 19 (Reuters) - The U.S. envoy for Central Asia visited conflict-torn Kyrgyzstan on Saturday after the State Department suggested the country's deposed president may be responsible for last week's outburst of ethnic violence.

The United States and Russia, both operating military air bases in the strategic Muslim nation, are concerned that continued turmoil in Kyrgyzstan would spread to other parts of Central Asia, a vast former Soviet region north of Afghanistan.

Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake was in Kyrgyzstan on Saturday to meet its interim leadership and was due to travel to the turbulent south later in the day.

The government says as many as 2,000 Uzbeks and Kyrgyz may have been killed in several days of ethnic violence last week.

In remarks posted on the State Department website, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Kyrgyzstan's president who was toppled in a revolt in April, may be to blame.

"Certainly, the ouster of President Bakiyev some months ago left behind those who were still his loyalists and very much against the provisional government," she said.

"There certainly have been allegations of instigation that have to be taken seriously."

Bakiyev, now in exile in the ex-Soviet republic of Belarus, has strongly denied any involvement in the events.

The U.N. says an estimated 1 million people were affected by the violence. Around 400,000 refugees are crammed into squalid camps on either side of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border.

Blake visited the camps on the Uzbek side on Friday and described the situation as a humanitarian crisis. He has called for an international inquiry into the killings.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who spoke to Clinton by telephone on Friday night, also accused "outside" elements of instigating unrest.

"Neither Uzbeks nor Kyrgyz are to blame for this," Karimov was quoted as saying by the official Uza news agency. "These disruptive actions were organised and managed from outside."

In Kyrgyzstan, a complicated patchwork of clans and tribes, Bakiyev's departure triggered fierce competition for control over businesses in the Central Asian nation lying on a major drug-trafficking route out of Afghanistan.

Historically there has been a strong rivalry between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz but many observers say Bakiyev loyalists who stayed behind are playing on ethnic divisions to regain strength.

Writing by Maria Golovnina; editing by Michael Roddy

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