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Tajikistan detains 114 over clashes in troubled eastern region

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Police in Tajikistan said Thursday over 100 people were arrested in a “counter-terror operation” after fatal clashes roiled an eastern region that the authoritarian regime has long struggled to control.

Nine people, eight of whom the government described as “militants,” and one officer were killed Wednesday following the worst violence in the remote Gorno-Badakhshan region since 2012.

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The interior ministry said police detained 114 “members of a terrorist group” during operations in the region’s Rushan district, with a further eight members of the group still at large.

The situation in Rushan had “normalized,” the ministry said in a statement carried by Tajikistan’s state information service.

Gorno-Badakhshan has been a flashpoint of tensions since the end of a five-year civil war that began shortly after the Central Asian nation gained its independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Linguistically, religiously and ethnically distinct from other regions, it was a home to rebels who opposed government forces during the conflict before the parties reached an uneasy truce.

Authorities announced a “counter-terror operation” Tuesday in response to protests in the city of Khorog that began over the weekend and included calls for the government-appointed regional head to step down, media said.

Internet has been largely unavailable in the region since the unrest began and mobile communications have also been affected.

A rare independent media outlet in the national capital Dushanbe, Asia-Plus, said this week it would cease reporting on the conflict “under the threat of closure” by the government.

Authorities informed the website its coverage was “one-sided” and “destabilizes the situation in the country,” Asia-Plus said.

In a joint statement, the European Union delegation in Tajikistan and the embassies of Britain, France, Germany and the United States called on “all parties to spare no effort to de-escalate, exercise restraint and refrain from excessive use of force and incitement to violence.”

Among the government’s key targets in the region is Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, a local powerbroker, that authorities describe as “leader of an organised criminal group.”

Officials have not yet said whether Mamadbokirov has been detained.

Located in the Pamir Mountains, Gorno-Badakhshan makes up almost half of majority-Muslim Tajikistan’s territory but is home to just 200,000 people.

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