13 militants killed in Tajikistan crackdown

Thirteen militants were killed by Tajikistan security forces on Saturday, the government said, a day after 22 people died in bloodshed blamed on a former deputy minister.

The crackdown followed a day of violence in which nine policemen and another 13 militants were killed in two separate attacks in the Central Asian country.

"The militants were offered to surrender but they refused. The operation continues," an interior ministry spokesman told AFP, referring to a joint police and army operation in the air and on the ground. 

Friday`s attacks targeted a police post on the outskirts of the capital Dushanbe, and a police station in Vahdat, some 20 kilometres (13 miles) to the east. 

Militants also managed to managed to steal "a large quantity of weapons and ammunition" from a defence ministry stockpile in Dushanbe, officials said.

The government claims the attacks were orchestrated by former deputy defence minister Abdulhalim Nazarzoda, who was dismissed from his position on Friday. 

They have accused him of belonging to the moderate Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the country`s largest opposition faction which was effectively closed down by the government last week.

Those killed on Saturday died in a government attack on a remote mountain area some 50 kilometres northeast of the capital, officials said. 

"Until now, we have arrested 32 members of Nazarzoda`s criminal group, and 13 of them were killed," a ministry statement said. 

The security forces also managed to recover more than 500 guns and ammunition.In a phone call with Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon, Russian President Vladimir Putin described Friday`s attacks as "an attempt to destabilise" the country, a Kremlin spokesman said. 

Moscow maintains a military base of around 7,000 soldiers in Tajikistan. 

The Tajik government has said 51-year-old Nazarzoda -- who was dismissed "in connection with a crime" -- fought on the side of the United Tajik Opposition during the 1992-1997 civil war, which cost some 150,000 lives.

They did not give details of the criminal offence he had allegedly committed. 

Nazarzoda, who took up the position of deputy defence minister in January, has worked at the ministry since 1999, when anti-government fighters were integrated into state institutions after the civil war.

Government claims that Nazarzoda belonged to the IRPT were denied by the movement. 

Last week, the interior ministry accused the IRPT of having ties with the Islamic State group, arresting 20 of its members on grounds they had allegedly raised the jihadists` black flag.

The move came a day after the justice ministry had ordered the party to halt its "illegal activities", on grounds it was not widely enough represented, in a move seen as an effective ban on the country`s main opposition party. 

The IRPT had been recognised as legitimate after the end of the civil war in 1997, and analysts have warned that the government crackdown could end up radicalising the moderate Muslim opposition. 

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