KARA DARYA, Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyz officials said yesterday that they were turning back more refugees from neighboring Uzbekistan, and other Uzbeks who already fled a bloody government crackdown said they would go home voluntarily to press for President Islam Karimov's ouster.
Uzbeks sheltering at a makeshift camp near this border town said that despite their fears about safety they would stage a peaceful march to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, and hoped others would join them.
''We must tell people to rise -- the time has come," said Ergash Ibragimov, 62, the oldest of about 500 people at the camp.
Widespread poverty and Karimov's authoritarian rule have fed widespread anger among Uzbeks, but the fear of repression largely had kept the country calm until protesters stormed a prison and local government offices in the eastern city of Andijan on May 13.
Troops moved in and shooting broke out. Uzbek opposition groups and human rights activists claim more than 700 people were killed, while Karimov's government put the death toll at 169. Karimov blamed the unrest on Islamic extremists and denied that soldiers fired at civilians.
''So much blood was spilled that the dead won't forgive us," said one refugee, who gave only his first name, Alisher, out of fear of possible reprisals at home. ''We will demand that Karimov step down. His hands are covered with blood."
Kyrgyz officials said Sunday they did not consider the Uzbeks at the camp to be refugees and would try to send them home. Yesterday, Colonel Abdumajit Abdurakhmonov, the Kyrgyz officer in charge of security at the camp, said authorities sent back 85 Uzbeks who tried to reach the camp.
Abdurakhmonov said letting more Uzbeks cross the border and stay could trigger a much bigger exodus from Uzbekistan than impoverished Kyrgyzstan can handle. ''If we had let them all come, their number here [at the camp] would have been 10 times higher, 5,000 instead of 500," he said.
He said Uzbek authorities had set up a camp to process the returnees and claimed those without criminal records would be let go, but he expressed skepticism. ''Personally, I feel that they treat them very cruelly there," he said.
''We have nothing to lose," said Khasan Shakirov, surrounded by several dozen other refugees. ''We only have our lives, and we will sacrifice them for freedom."