17 killed in clashes in Tajikistan

Eight police officers and nine alleged militants were killed in two shootouts in Tajikistan on Friday that the government blamed on a deputy defence minister and the country`s moderate Islamic opposition.

Dushanbe: Eight police officers and nine alleged militants were killed in two shootouts in Tajikistan on Friday that the government blamed on a deputy defence minister and the country`s moderate Islamic opposition.

An armed group killed four police in an early morning shootout on the outskirts of the capital Dushanbe and a further four policemen were killed in a shootout in the town of Vahdat just outside the capital, said the interior ministry.

A total of nine militants were killed during the shootouts, the ministry said, adding that another six were detained.

"The terrorist group was led by deputy defence minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda," a police spokesman told AFP.

The government announced later Friday that Nazarzoda had been relieved of his duties "in connection with a crime committed."

The interior ministry said Nazarzoda fought on the side of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) during a five-year civil war that ended in 1997.

Authorities also said that the deputy defence minister was a member of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) that the government effectively shut down last week.

The US embassy in Tajikistan said it was temporarily closing and advised American officials not to send their children to local schools.

"Although the significance of these events is unclear, they may be precursors to other acts of violence," the embassy said in a statement.

"Official Americans have been advised to shelter in place and not send children to school today."

Internet users in the country have reported blocks on Facebook, YouTube and Russian social media service Odnoklassniki.

The latest upsurge in violence comes amid growing tensions in the majority-Muslim but secular post-Soviet country of 8 million people over the role of Islam in public life.

Last week the justice ministry issued a de-facto ban on the work of the IRPT, the only legal Islamic party in the former Soviet Union, in a move analysts said could radicalise the opposition.

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