Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan close borders with Uzbekistan because of unrest

Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan on Friday closed their borders with Uzbekistan following violent protests in an eastern Uzbek city that left at least nine people dead.

"The decision to close the border was aimed at preventing destructive elements from crossing the border," said Gulmira Borubayeva, spokeswoman for the Kyrgyz Border Guard Service.

Kazakh police also said their country's border with Uzbekistan was closed.

Armed protesters in Andijan city clashed with security forces Friday and freed 23 Muslim businessmen being tried on charges of participating in extremist activity, one of the defendants said. Their supporters say they were victims of religious persecution.

Andijan is situated in the Fergana valley, which is shared by two other Central Asian nations - Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It is located 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Kyrgyz town of Osh.

Tension has been high in the Fergana Valley for years, as strong Islamist sentiment is seen as posing a challenge to the secular and heavy-handed government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

KADYR TOKTOGULOV, Associated Press Writer