TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- A lone Islamic militant who was holed up in a house blew himself up early today, ending a standoff in the Uzbek capital. The official statement contradicted accounts of militants holding a large number of hostages.
Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency reported two hostages had been freed unharmed, citing police at the scene.
The incident marked a fourth straight day of violence in the Central Asian country, where police and Islamic militants had allegedly engaged in battles and bombings that had taken at least 42 lives.
Oleg Bichenov, Tashkent city police antiterrorism deputy chief, said early today that there were no hostages and that a lone man -- barricaded in a house and surrounded by police -- had detonated explosives, killing himself.
Bichenov had no explanation for discrepancies with the earlier reports.
The violence in Uzbekistan, where President Islam Karimov rules with an iron hand, was the first of note since the former Soviet republic became a key US ally in the war on terror shortly before the Afghan war.
The Interfax news agency had reported the standoff began with an unknown number of casualties in a grenade explosion in the Sabir-Rakhimovski district of Tashkent, a half-mile from the Chorsu bazaar, where suicide bombers struck Monday. Russia's Channel One television said three people were wounded and ITAR-Tass said one police officer was slightly injured.
Police blocked off streets and trucks packed with soldiers arrived and pushed back onlookers, establishing a cordon around the area after a grenade blast. The soldiers, wearing flak jackets and helmets, were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles.
An Associated Press reporter saw police escorting three women wearing kerchiefs into a police car. Later, at least five buses carrying people who appeared to be civilians left the area under police escort, as residents of the neighborhood of small single-family homes stood outside the cordon trying to find out what was going on.
The end to the standoff came as a sharp sound of an explosion resounded -- likely the militant's explosive. Later buses brought some of the residents who had been evacuated back to the neighborhood.
Nineteen people were killed and 26 wounded on Sunday and Monday in violence that included the first suicide bombings in Uzbekistan. On Tuesday, 23 people died as Uzbek forces battled for hours with suspected terrorists, and were struck by two suicide attacks, officials said. All the attacks appeared to target Uzbek authorities.
Police searched the capital yesterday in pursuit of fugitive militants, and reportedly arrested at least 30. A police official said those in custody so far were adherents to the strict Wahhabi strain of Islam, which was believed to have inspired Osama bin Laden, not members of an extremist group President Islam Karimov has implied were behind the attacks.
Bichenov said those in custody were being questioned at length -- but that interrogations so far found that none were members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir extremist group.
An annex office at the US Embassy in Tashkent remained closed yesterday, although visa operations resumed. Americans were urged to be on "highest alert," as the situation remained unclear.