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Acting Kyrgyz president says death toll probably much higher

By the CNN Wire Staff
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: UN chief announces appeal for $71 million in aid
  • Interim Kyrgyz government rep. shoots down suggestion U.S. airbase might be closed
  • Russian media: Acting Kyrgyz president says multiply official death toll by 10
  • UN Refugee agency UNHCR will start airlifting supplies to Kyrgyzstan this weekend

Osh, Uzbekistan (CNN) -- The acting president of Kyrgyzstan said when it comes to the recent ethnic clashes in her country, she would multiply the official death toll by 10, according to the Russian news website Kommersant.

Roza Otunbayeva told Kommersant that many deaths in the countryside were not part of the official total of yet, which the Kyrgyz news agency Kabar places at 191, according to the Kyrgyz Health Care Ministry.

In a separate interview in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, the interim president called for reconciliation between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.

"By all means, we have to give hope that we shall restore the city, return all the refugees and create all conditions for that. I think the entire world will be helping us, because we two peoples have the goodwill to live in peace and friendship together," Otunbayeva said.

A U.S. official on Friday called for a "substantial" investigation into the killings. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake was at a refugee camp near the border in Uzbekistan, where thousands of ethnic Uzbeks fled violence in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

Blake said he wants Kyrgyzstan authorities to investigate who carried out the attacks on ethnic Uzbeks and to bring those responsible to justice. He planned to go to the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek later Friday to deliver the message personally, he said.

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Blake praised the Uzbek government for working to support the refugees who have flooded into their country. About 120,000 have crossed the border into Uzbekistan, far more than officials had been expecting.

The Obama administration is committed to assisting the Uzbek government with supplies and other aid, Blake said at the camp near Yor Kishlok, where refugees were living in rows of tents.

While countries and nongovernmental organizations are sending aid to the region, Otunbayeva's assistant, Azimbek Beknazarov, said in a news release Friday morning that if England doesn't extradite Maksim Bakiev, the son of deposed Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev, then the Kyrgyz government will consider "closing the Manas airbase." However, the interim government representative, Temir Sariev, told CNN that, "This is only Mr. Beknazarov's opinion and, so far, the interim government is not sharing this opinion."

In a statement released by London-based attorneys, Maksim Bakiev said, "I have been forced into exile in fear for my life. The interim government in Kyrgyzstan accuses me of new crimes every day. The charges are bogus, to divert attention from their own crimes. They accuse me before there has been any opportunity for an investigation. Clearly they seek to try to make me a scapegoat for the chaos in the country. I view events in my homeland with horror and pray for an end to the violence."

Refugees were telling stories about the violence that began last week, describing houses and businesses burned by rampaging militias, bodies in the streets and how their relatives had been killed.

Video and witness accounts were starting to emerge Friday that units of the Kyrgyz military may have been taking part in the violence. Refugees on both sides of the border said they are frightened by the Kyrgyz military.

Ethnic violence has displaced about 300,000 people inside Kyrgyzstan, The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Thursday, citing information from the Kyrgyz interim government and nongovernmental organizations.

Some relief for those refugees is imminent. The UN refugee agency said Friday it will begin airlifting supplies into Kyrgyzstan this weekend. UNHCR plans to send two cargo planes to Osh with enough assistance to help about 15,000 people, with one arriving Saturday and the other Sunday.

Families and host communities were sheltering many of them, but at least 40,000 people were in need of shelter, according to the UNHCR.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced a "flash appeal" for $71 million, seeking immediate funding for food, shelter, medical supplies and other emergency aid as part of the response to the crisis.

The violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan has calmed down after it erupted late last week. The UNHCR said in addition to the dozens of deaths, around 1,900 have been wounded.

The agency said the situation in Osh and nearby villages "appears to be volatile," and conditions in Jalal-Abad are tense. Many families have left Osh and Jalal-Abad for Bishkek and other areas.

The flood of refugees into Uzbekistan has strained the country's health care and food sectors, and several dozen female refugees crossed the border pregnant and have given birth, the United Nations said.

China, which borders Kyrgyzstan on the east, said Thursday it had removed 1,299 Chinese nationals, the state-run news agency Xinhua said.

The clashes in Kyrgyzstan, which started last week, were part of the most serious outbreak of ethnic violence in the former Soviet republic since 1990, when hundreds of people died in skirmishes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Osh.

The United Nations and several countries, including the United States, Germany and Russia, have sent aid to the region. Francois Blancy, deputy head of the Red Cross regional office in Uzbekistan, said more aid is needed.

"We are now at the peak of the humanitarian crisis," Blancy said Thursday.

CNN's Matthew Chance contributed to this report.