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EU Official Sees 'Change Of Mind' In Uzbekistan

BRUSSELS, March 29, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union's external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, says she thinks Uzbekistan has had "a change of mind" and is willing to respond to EU concerns about its human rights situation.

Ferrero-Waldner made the comments a day after taking part in a meeting between an EU delegation with representatives of all five Central Asian countries in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

"I think there is a change in their minds insofar as they have accepted two expert meetings, [the first took place in December 2006] the second one will be there [in Tashkent] on April 2, so very soon after our yesterday's meeting where we saw the [Uzbek] Foreign Minister [Vladimir Norov], indeed we hand lengthy talks with him," she said.

Ferrero-Waldner also praised Uzbekistan's willingness to relaunch a human rights dialogue with the EU.

She said the EU would go on seeking "engagement" with Tashkent in the hope of securing "changes in attitudes" that could benefit the people of Uzbekistan.

The EU commissioner said she had been told by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister of Germany, which currently holds the EU's rotating Presidency, that Tashkent may also allow visits to Uzbek prisons by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
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