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Uzbek toll: 169 or 700?

By wire services
Published May 18, 2005

ANDIJAN, Uzbekistan - The government and opposition leaders on Tuesday offered widely diverging death tolls and accounts of the violence in this U.S.-allied Central Asian country. The top prosecutor said 169 terrorists and troops were killed, but opposition activists maintained more than 700 died - most of them civilians.

Prosecutor-General Rashid Kadyrov and President Islam Karimov held a news conference in the capital, Tashkent, blaming alleged Islamic militants for last week's unrest and denying government forces shot and killed civilians.

Kadyrov said 137 "terrorists" and 32 troops were killed in the eastern town of Andijan - a sharp rise from the nine deaths the government originally announced on Friday. Some of those killed were foreign fighters, he said.

However, opposition leaders blamed government troops for most of the killings. They allege that over 500 people, many of them innocent civilians, were killed in Andijan and more than 200 in the nearby town of Pakhtabad.

Nigara Khidoyatova, head of the unregistered opposition Free Peasants Party, said her party reached its figure of 745 killed in the two towns by speaking to relatives of the missing.

"The count hasn't yet finished, and the death toll will rise," she told the Associated Press.

Witnesses said several hundred people were killed in Andijan.

Karimov, the Uzbek president, dismissed Khidoyatova's claim of over 700 dead as one made by a "person who needs psychiatric treatment."

"Let's count the number of graves tomorrow," he said, apparently referring to a government-organized trip to Andijan for foreign media and diplomats set for today.

4 men abduct Italian aid worker in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Italian aid worker was kidnapped Monday to try to force the release of men jailed in the abduction of three U.N. workers last fall, officials said.

Clementina Cantoni, 32, has worked with CARE International in Kabul for almost two years, caring for widows and their families. Four men kidnapped her at gunpoint in downtown Kabul about 8:30 p.m. Monday when she was on her way to a yoga class. They smashed her car window and dragged her away, near a British cemetery and a major mosque.

Cantoni was not harmed as of late Tuesday, according to Afghan officials who said the government had talked to the kidnappers.

Most U.N. workers stayed home from work Tuesday. All cars leading out of Kabul were stopped and searched to see if Cantoni was being smuggled out of the capital.

Conservative defects to Canada's ruling party

TORONTO - A Conservative lawmaker defected to the ruling Liberal Party on Tuesday, all but assuring that Prime Minister Paul Martin's scandal-rocked minority government will win a confidence vote later this week.

Belinda Stronach, 39, who lost a bid as leader of the Conservative Party last year, was appointed to Martin's Cabinet as the new minister of human resources, a huge promotion for a relatively inexperienced member of Parliament.

Her surprise announcement means Martin's minority government will have a much better chance of winning a confidence vote scheduled for Thursday.

"I regret to say that I do not believe the (Conservative) Party's leader is truly sensitive to the needs of each part of the country and just how big and complex Canada really is," Stronach told a news conference in Ottawa.

Blair unveils agenda

LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday unveiled plans to shake up Britain's welfare state, tackle terrorism and introduce Britain's first national ID card since World War II - a third term agenda that could spark revolt in his restive Labor Party and test his waning authority.

Blair's lead in Parliament was slashed in this month's election, and he may struggle to push through the 45 bills.

Also ...

TROPICAL STORM: A tropical depression in the Eastern Pacific was likely to grow into a tropical storm - perhaps even a hurricane - that could hit by the weekend, forecasters said Tuesday. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said that Tropical Depression One-E seemed to be on an early-season path toward Guatemala or El Salvador and "could cause torrential rains."

BASQUE TALKS: Spanish lawmakers Tuesday endorsed a government proposal to hold talks with Basque separatist group ETA if it renounces violence, the latest effort to end the group's decadeslong campaign for independence that has killed hundreds of people.

[Last modified May 18, 2005, 00:51:10]

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