MOSCOW (Reuters) - Authorities in Tajikistan on Tuesday charged the country's renegade ex-deputy defense minister with high treason following bloody gun battles that killed 22 and stoked fears of religious-related unrest, Russian and Tajik news agencies reported.
Security forces are still hunting General Abdukhalim Nazarzoda, a former rebel and the country's deputy defense minister until Friday, after gunmen loyal to him clashed with government forces in circumstances that have not been fully explained.
The turmoil has stirred fears of instability in the poor Muslim nation of 8 million, which remains volatile after a 1992-97 civil war that killed tens of thousands of people. Tensions between its secular, pro-Moscow government and the Islamist opposition are on the rise.
On Tuesday, the prosecutor general's office charged Nazarzoda in absentia with high treason, terrorism, sabotage and with setting up an extremist group, Russian and Tajik agencies said.
The prosecutor general's office could not be immediately reached for comment.
Instability in the ex-Soviet state is a source of concern to Russia and the United States who fear militant Islam could take root there because of its proximity to Afghanistan, though there has been limited evidence of that so far.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Alexander Winning)