ANDIJAN, Uzbekistan -- An estimated 500 bodies have been laid out in a school in the eastern Uzbek city where troops fired on a crowd of protesters to put down an uprising, a doctor said today, corroborating witness accounts of hundreds killed in the fighting.
The doctor, who said she had seen the bodies, stated that residents were coming to Andijan's School No. 15 to identify dead relatives, who had been placed in rows. Soldiers were guarding the school, said the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for her safety.
The doctor said she believed that about 2,000 people were wounded in the clashes on Friday, but it wasn't clear how she arrived at that estimate. The doctor spoke by telephone from the city.
Thousands of terrified Uzbeks trying to flee into Kyrgyzstan burned a government building yesterday and attacked border guards, a second day of violence triggered by a brazen jailbreak to free accused Islamic militants and a massive demonstration against economic conditions under the iron-fisted rule of President Islam Karimov.
There was no immediate word on casualties in yesterday's violence in this former republic of the Soviet Union. Witnesses on Friday had said 200 to 300 people were killed in the gunfire; the doctor's report of 500 dead raised that estimate.
The Uzbek unrest began overnight Friday when protesters freed as many as 2,000 prisoners, including the 23 members of the Akramia Islamic group on trial on charges of being members of a group allied with the outlawed radical Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir. It seeks to create a worldwide Islamic state and has been forced underground throughout most of Central Asia and Russia.
Karimov's hard-line secular regime has a long history of repressing Muslims who worship outside state-approved mosques.
On Friday, thousands of people swarmed into the streets of Andijan, clashing with police and seizing the administration building, which was later taken back by government forces. Demonstrators did not call for the ouster of Karimov, but instead complained bitterly about the dire economic conditions.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia telephoned Karimov yesterday to express concern that the violence could destabilize Central Asia, said a statement carried by the Kremlin press service.
The US-allied Uzbek leader blamed the fighting on Islamic extremists. During a press conference in the capital, Tashkent, he said 10 government troops and many more militants died in the fighting Friday. At least 100 people were wounded, Karimov said without specifying who started the shooting.
The United States has an air base in the Karshi-Khanabad region, 90 miles from the Afghan border, to support military operations in that country. The number of troops there has reached several thousand at times. The base is more than 430 miles southwest of Andijan.
The White House declined to comment yesterday, although on Friday press secretary Scott McClellan urged both the government and demonstrators to ''exercise restraint."
While the violence in Andijan appeared to have calmed yesterday, disturbances flared in the village of Korasuv, 30 miles to the east, when 6,000 Uzbeks trying to flee into Kyrgyzstan were blocked at the border. Some in the group set fire to a police station, vandalized police cars, and attacked border personnel, a Kyrgyz official said. Uzbek helicopters were seen circling overhead.
In Andijan, hundreds of angry protesters gathered at the site of Friday's bloodshed, placing six bodies on display from the scores that witnesses said were killed in fighting.
Demonstrators, some with tears in their eyes, condemned the government for firing on women and children. Residents said a group of hundreds later went to a local police station to confront the heavily armed authorities, who sent a helicopter buzzing low over the crowd to scare them away.
Karimov said he ordered authorities not to take any physical action against the demonstrators yesterday. ''In Uzbekistan, nobody fights against women, children, or the elderly," he said.
By evening, only about 200 protesters remained in the center of Andijan, residents said.
In Friday's standoff, Karimov contended that the government had offered the demonstrators free passage out of the city in buses with their weapons, seized in attacks on a police station and military outpost.
Interior Minister Zakir Almatov did not sound willing to negotiate, Kabuljon Parpiyev, a protest leader said after a phone conversation Friday. ''He said: 'We don't care if 200, 300, or 400 people die. We have force and we will chuck you out of there anyway.' "