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Women and children shot as thousands flee Kyrgyzstan

Women and children were shot as they tried to escape ethnic violence that has forced tens of thousands of terrified people to flee Kyrgyzstan.

After a third day of fighting in the city of Osh, Police were yesterday given shoot to kill orders as bloodshed swept across the south of the country.

An ethnic minority of almost one million Uzbeks live in the former Soviet central Asian state. Officials said at least 30,000 people had crossed the border from Kyrgyzstan. One told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency that 75,000 had entered Uzbekistan.

Much of Osh, has been destroyed by fire and looting after gangs of Krygyz men ransacked Uzbek communities. Most of the Uzbeks have left the city and thousands have gathered at the border with Uzbekistan desperate for shelter and food.

Witnesses said that women and children were among the100 people killed and 1,000 hurt in the violence. They were shot as they tried to escape Osh. Bodies were lying in the city’s streets while survivors were running out of food and water.

A Pakistani student living in Osh told the BBC. “I didn't know who was fighting whom. I heard that they were cutting people with knives and killing them. I think thousands of people may have been killed in the last few days, not hundreds.”

Authorities called a state of emergency in the neighbouring Jalal-Abad region after armed Kyrgyz mobs rampaged through Uzbek villages, killing people and torching their homes. The interim Kyrgyz Government has asked Russia to send in troops to bring back order, but Russia turned down the request.

Last night the violence was on the verge of spilling over in to a humanitarian disaster, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned “Things are getting worse and worse by the hour,” said Severine Chappaz, the deputy head of the Red Cross mission in Kyrgyzstan. “Tens of thousands of people are fleeing the fighting and looting and heading towards the Kyrgyz border with Uzbekistan.”

Uzbekistan said it was alarmed by the situation but did not say if it would allow refugees to cross its border.

Uzbek witnesses told a BBC correspondent at a border crossing that gangs of armed Kyrgyz had been marauding through neighbourhoods, killing residents and burning homes. "We need food, we need water, I have got two sons and they are little and I need water and food to survive,” one woman pleaded.

Hayley attribution