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Pressure for Uzbek violence probe

From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott

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Unrest is the bloodiest in Uzbekistan's post-Soviet history

Hundreds are dead in what some say appears to be a massacre

• Witnesses describe bloodbath
• Islamist group denies violence
• Key facts about Uzbekistan

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration on Wednesday called for an international investigation into last week's violence in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan, and said it was becoming increasingly clear that Uzbek forces deliberately fired on protesters.

"Reports being compiled paint a very disturbing picture of the events and the government of Uzbekistan's reaction to them," U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

The U.S. move follows an earlier call by the United Nations for an independent investigation into the killings and an assessment of reports of excessive use of force by authorities.

In a statement, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour urged the Uzbek government "to guarantee the rights Uzbekistan has pledged to uphold under international law, including the freedoms of assembly and expression."

The violence began last Thursday when a group of citizens -- angered by the arrest of several prominent business owners -- stormed the prison where they were being held on charges of religious extremism.

At one point, about 10,000 protesters gathered in the city center to demand the resignation of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, a U.S. ally.

Boucher voiced concern about reports of hostage-taking and the release of members of the terrorist group Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, after the armed assault on the prison.

Still, he said, it was becoming apparent that "very large numbers of civilians were killed by the indiscriminate use of force by Uzbek forces."

A senior State Department official said although Uzbekistan was battling a difficult problem with terrorists, the attack on the square was "certainly an overreaction to the kind of threat they are faced with."

Dan Fried, assistant secretary of state for European affairs, met this week with officials from countries belonging to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe about the concerns.

In addition, the U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan officially toured the area with other diplomats.

But Boucher said the Uzbek government had to do "much more" to produce a thorough and transparent investigation.

"We do think there needs to be an open and credible transparent inquiry into this, and the international community would stand ready to assist in that," he said.

Accounts of the death toll in Andijan have varied greatly. The Uzbek government has said 169 died, but an opposition leader said her party had compiled a list of 745 people allegedly killed by government troops in the former Soviet state.

The country's top prosecutor Rashid Kadyrov said 32 of those who died were government troops and indicated the others were militants.

"Only terrorists were liquidated by government forces," he told a news conference, with President Karimov at his side -- contradicting the accounts of witnesses to the violence.

Meanwhile Wednesday, U.N. officials, foreign diplomats and journalists were taken for the first time to the city of Andijan where witnesses said troops shot dead hundreds of people.

However the visitors were not allowed to see School No. 15 where witnesses said the killings took place.

"Write that down in your story that they never took us to the school," Reuters news agency quoted one diplomat as shouting to reporters from a bus taking the envoys and foreign journalists back to the airport.

The group included diplomats from a number of European countries, including Britain, Romania and the Czech Republic, and China and South Korea.

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