London Observer / London Independent – 2005-05-16 08:33:35
Uzbekistan on the Brink as Clashes Spread
Nick Paton Walsh / The (London) Observer
MOSCOW (May 15, 2005) — The violence that has reportedly killed hundreds of protesters in eastern Uzbekistan appeared to be spreading to neighbouring towns last night, raising fears that the volatile Central Asian state could erupt into a full-scale revolution.
As human rights workers in the flashpoint town of Andijan warned that the death toll there could reach 500, an official from the neighbouring country of Kyrgyzstan said sporadic rioting had broken out in the border town of Karasu, with government buildings and police cars on fire and military helicopters circling overhead.
One local official was reported by the Russian Interfax news agency to have been heavily beaten by rioters. The Uzbek President, Islam Karimov, claimed that troops had opened fire on protesters in Andijan only when they were advanced on.
Visibly angry, he told reporters in the capital, Tashkent: ‘I know that you want to know who gave the order to fire at them … No one ordered [the troops] to fire at them.’ He said 10 soldiers were killed in the clash and ‘many more’ protesters.
Galima Bukharbaeva, a reporter with international monitoring group the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, who witnessed the killings, described a column of armoured personnel carriers firing indiscriminately and unprovoked at protesters.
They had stormed the city prison after 23 businessmen were put on trial for alleged Islamic extremism. They took over the local administration centre and blockaded the city centre, some demanding that the government resign.
Karimov responded: ‘To accept their terms would mean that we are setting a precedent that no other country in the world would accept.’ He dismissed claims that children had been among the dead. ‘In Uzbekistan, nobody fights against women, children or the elderly,’ he added.
Among those who hurriedly left the city were seven British tennis players due to take part in the F4 Futures Event. Information was scarce inside Andijan, with most phone lines blocked as part of an apparent news blackout in the region. Human rights worker Lutfulla Shamsutdinov told Agence France-Presse yesterday: ‘This morning I saw three trucks and a bus in which 300 dead bodies were being loaded by soldiers. At least one third of the bodies were women.’ The claims were impossible to verify.
One witness said that he saw 1,000 people, mostly women and children, gathering in the city centre yesterday morning. ‘Some were bringing their dead. Many of them were old people or women, some were throwing stones at the soldiers. I saw over 20 dead, but someone told me they had seen many more piled up near the central square.’
A reporter for Associated Press said that he saw 30 bodies on streets spattered with blood and littered with spent cartridges. The dead had all been shot and the head of one had been smashed in.
Daniyar Akbarov, 24, one of those freed from jail on Friday, tearfully beat his chest in the square yesterday. ‘Our women and children are dying,’ he said, claiming he had seen 300 people killed.
The military claimed to control the town last night. The news website www. ferghana.ru reported dozens of flights arriving at an airport in the region, suggesting extra troops were being flown in.
As the violence continued to spread, Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned his Uzbek counterpart. ‘Both sides expressed concern about the danger of destabilisation of the situation in the Central Asian region,’ a Kremlin statement said.
On Friday night, the United States raised fears that members of a ‘terrorist group’ may have been released from prison during the riots, but urged both sides to show restraint. The former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who claims that he lost his job for exposing the human rights abuses of the US’s new ally in the war on terror, said the Islamic elements in the Andijan crowds were moderate – ‘more Turkey than Taliban’.
He added: ‘This has really blown up in the US’s faces. When will the US and UK call for fair, free and early elections in Uzbekistan?’
America gives $10 million a year in aid to the Uzbek security services and police, agencies which it says indulge in torture as a ‘routine investigation technique’. Murray said: ‘The US will claim that they are teaching the Uzbeks less repressive interrogation techniques, but that is basically not true.
‘They help fund the Uzbek security services and give tens of millions of dollars in military support as well.’ He said the money was a ‘sweetener’ in return for the Uzbeks allowing the US to have an airbase in the southern town of Khanabad, vital for operations in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Russian state television carried comments from politicians and analysts, saying the unrest was a ‘green revolution’ – a suggestion that it was an Islamic fundamentalist revolt. A junior foreign minister said the unrest was caused by ‘the weakness of the authorities, social problems and the influence of extremist groups’.
Officials from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan said that hundreds of refugees had tried to cross the border.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005
Karimov Courted by Bush and Blair Despite Human Rights Abuses
Andrew Johnson / London Independent
(15 May 2005) — Uzbekistan’s human right’s record may be internationally criticised, but this has not stopped the country enjoying the best relations with London, Washington and Moscow.
The highlight in President Islam Karimov’s scrap book is no doubt a 45-minute head-to-head meeting with President George Bush in the Oval Office in March 2002. Uzbekistan was one of the first countries to offer strategic assistance to the US after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The US used its airbases for operations over Afghanistan.
Tommy Franks, the US Commander-in-Chief of the Afghan operation, held a press conference in Tashkent in January 2002. Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, visited Tashkent in October 2001, shortly before a contingent of 1,000 American troops arrived in the country. He visited again in February last year to discuss military relations. US-Uzbek military relations are “growing stronger every month”, he said adding: “We have benefited greatly in our efforts in the global war on terror and in Afghanistan from the wonderful co-operation we’ve received from the government of Uzbekistan.”
On 12 August 2004, General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the US Joint Chief’s of Staff, visited Tashkent and met President Karimov. He announced an additional $12m in aid to help the country reduce it’s biological weapons. This was shortly after the US had cut it’s $500m aid to the county by $18m in protest at its human rights record. “I wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t think that the United States benefited greatly from our partnership and strategic relationship with Uzbekistan,” he told a press conference.
Two years earlier, in August 2002, Mr Karimov was also honoured with a visit by Paul O’Neill, the US Treasury Secretary. “It’s a great pleasure to have an opportunity to spend time with someone [Mr Karimov] with both a very keen intellect and a deep passion about the improvement of the life of the people of this country,” Mr O’Neill said
Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, has also had numerous meetings with Mr Karimov. One, for example, saw him pay a rare visit to Moscow in April last year, a day after Russia’s giant gas company Gazprom announced enormous investment in Uzbekistan.
The Uzbek Defence Minister, Kodir Gulamov, paid an official visit to the UK as a guest of the British Government in October 2003. He held talks with the then Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon. The ministers signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Co-operation in the Field of Defence. In February that year, the UK Government granted Uzbekistan an “open licence” to import weapons from Britain.
In March this year, however, a planned visit to the country by the Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell was cancelled by the Uzbekis after he insisted on talking about the country’s human rights record.
© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd
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