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Uzbekistan: U.S. Criticizes Both Sides In Unrest

  • Andrew Tully --> Aftermath of violence in Andijon Washington, 17 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Last week, the U.S. government called for both sides involved in the unrest in Uzbekistan to avoid violence. Last night, the State Department spoke more strongly in calling for restraint, particularly from the government in Tashkent.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher was equally insistent yesterday that violence must be avoided both by the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov and by the civilian protesters who took over the eastern city of Andijon last week.

He said that whatever their grievances, the civilians were wrong to take the offensive.

"The armed attack by civilians on the prison in Andijon and other government facilities is the kind of violence that we cannot countenance in any way," boucher said. "And we condemn these kinds of armed attacks on prison facilities and on government facilities. There's nothing that justifies acts of violence or terrorism. And we're very concerned at reports of either the release or escape of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan members."

Karimov's forces responded the night of 13 May, firing on the protesters. So far, government casualty figures include only 10 soldiers and an unspecified number of civilians. Witnesses and human rights organizations say they killed more than 500 people and injured 2,000. This led to an exodus by hundreds of Uzbeks toward neighboring Kyrgyzstan (for more on these events, see RFE/RL's dedicated webpage: Unrest in Uzbekistan).

Boucher said the government response also was not called for.

"We are deeply disturbed by the reports that the Uzbek authorities fired on demonstrators last Friday [13 May]," he said. "We certainly condemn the indiscriminate use of force against unarmed civilians and deeply regret any loss of life. We have urged -- had urged and continue to urge -- the Uzbek government to exercise restraint, stressing that violence cannot lead to long-term stability. And we've made that point with senior Uzbek authorities in Washington and Tashkent."

For years, the State Department's annual report on human rights around the world has criticized Karimov. And yesterday, Boucher said his government bears the ultimate responsibility for restoring order in his country.

Boucher urged Karimov to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to have access to Andijon. He also called for the international news media, which were ordered out of the city, to be allowed to return.

"The stability in Uzbekistan ultimately depends on their government reaching out to the citizenry and instituting real reforms -- political reforms, economic reforms, the rule of law -- and addressing its human rights problems. We're disappointed in the degree of progress we've seen, and we will continue to work with the Uzbeks to address all these areas," Boucher said.

Karimov has long charged that his efforts to stabilize Uzbekistan are opposed by forces he calls "Islamic extremists." Boucher said the U.S. government believes that the Uzbek president uses that description too broadly. But he said at least some opponents are truly violent and determined to overthrow the government.

Click here for a gallery of images from the violence in eastern Uzbekistan on 13-14 May.

See also:

Bloody Friday In The Ferghana Valley

Where Does Crisis Go From Here?

Protesters Charge Officials With Using Extremism Charges To Target Entrepreneurs

Analysis: Economic Concerns Primary In Andijon

Background: Banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Faces Dwindling Appeal, Internal Divisions

Interview: Opposition Leader Tells RFE/RL About 'Farmers' Revolution'