Deadly ethnic clashes across the south of Kyrgyzstan raged for a third day on Sunday, as the embattled interim government ordered police to shoot to kill gangs of marauders terrorizing the population.
Interim President Roza Otunbayeva earlier appealed to Moscow to intervene militarily after at least 86 people were reported killed and more than 1,000 wounded in the southern Fergana Valley region.
But with Moscow declining to send troops and with the violence showing no signs of abating in the Central Asian state, calls from foreign leaders and aid groups to end the brutal clashes have gained urgency.
The government decreed late on Saturday that lethal force would now be authorised to repel attacks against the authorities and to stop the destruction of property and protect civilians. "If we do not take opportune and effective measures the unrest could become much more serious and descend into a regional conflict," it decreed.
It extended a state of emergency to a 24-hour curfew in the southern Osh region, where the violence erupted Thursday when brawls between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks flared into running street battles across Osh city.
The authorities also extended a state of emergency Sunday across the country's entire southern Jalalabad region as heavy fighting spread there from neighbouring Osh, leaving at least nine people dead, officials said.
Panicked residents described ongoing violence and chaos in the region, where the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned of a humanitarian crisis.
"The authorities are not doing anything to stabilize the situation.... We are not even able to collect bodies from the streets," Ruslan, an Osh resident who preferred not to give his surname, said by telephone.
"The truth and the enormity of the tragedy cannot be hidden. The city centre is under the control of bandits," he said.
Rights group Amnesty International called on authorities to protect its citizens "of Uzbek origin who have been targeted during the violence".
It urged neighbouring Uzbekistan to take in refugees, saying between 2,000-6,000 refugees had fled to the border desperate to escape the violence.
"Things are getting worse and worse by the hour," said Severine Chappaz, the deputy head of the ICRC mission in Kyrgyzstan."Tens of thousands of people are fleeing the fighting and looting and heading towards the Kyrgyz border with Uzbekistan."
An AFP reporter witnessed hundreds of ethnic Uzbek women and children hoping to be allowed in Uzbekistan at one border post.
Uzbekistan itself voiced "extreme alarm" at the violence, calling it an organized bid to inflame ethnic tensions, but did not comment on whether it was ready to accept refugees. The European Commission on Saturday announced it was sending a humanitarian expert to evaluate the situation, while Moscow pledged swift medical aid.
The provisional government has struggled to impose order in the Central Asian state since seizing control during riots that ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April.
Since the uprising, which left 87 people dead, foreign leaders have warned of the danger of civil war in the strategically vital state, which hosts both US and Russian military bases.
The United States, whose air base outside the capital Bishkek is critical to the war in Afghanistan, renewed its calls for a swift return to order.
"The United States is closely monitoring developments in the Kyrgyz republic and calls for a rapid restoration of peace and public order," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement on Saturday.