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Japanese Leader Praises Ties With Uzbekistan --> Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (left) with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent (AFP) August 30, 2006 -- Junichiro Koizumi today wrapped up his visit to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan -- the first-ever Central Asian tour made by a Japanese prime minister -- by traveling to the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand.

Earlier in the day he visited Tashkent's Alisher Navoi Theater, which was built by Japanese prisoners-of-war during World War II. He was also due to pay his respects to the graves of some of the 800 Japanese soldiers who died in Soviet Uzbekistan during the conflict.

During his two-day stay in Uzbekistan, Koizumi repeatedly praised the existing Japanese-Uzbek ties.

However, officials traveling with the Japanese prime minister say that, while steering clear of public criticism, he urged Karimov to mend fences with the West and proceed with democratic reforms.

Uzbekistan's ties with the West have been strained by the bloody repression that followed popular unrest in Andijon in May 2005. Official figures say that 187 people died in the violence, a far lower figure than given by observers and human rights groups.

(Reuters, UzReport,

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