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Uzbekistan: Opposition Leader Denies Accusations

  • Bruce Pannier

Prague, 12 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Mohammed Solih -- the leader of one of Uzbekistan's major opposition groups -- has become the latest person to be blamed by authorities for a terrorist attack in Tashkent last month. At least 13 people were killed when car bombs exploded near government buildings on February 16.

Solih is the chairman of Uzbekistan's Erk Party, one of the country's first opposition political parties but one the Uzbek government banned in 1992. Solih served as a people's deputy during the last years of the Soviet Union and ran against incumbent President Islam Karimov in the 1991 presidential elections.

The attack on Solih highlights the way in which Karimov appears to be using the bombings -- which he called an assassination attempt -- to move against his opponents. Uzbek state television and two local newspapers, Pravda Vostoka and Halq Sozi, are accusing Solih of having connections to terrorists and of organizing training in sabotage for young Uzbek men in countries outside Uzbekistan.

Solih -- who has been living in exile in Turkey and Germany for the past six years -- rejected the charges in an interview with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service.

Halq Sozi called Solih a "traitor to the Motherland," writing that he recruited men and sent them to Chechnya for terrorist training, training that was allegedly used to carry out the bombings in Tashkent.

But Solih said the Erk Party has condemned the Tashkent bombings. He said the bombings were not an attempt on Karimov's life but an attack against the Uzbek people. Solih said, "we would never allow our people to take such a step against the Uzbek people."

Pravda Vostoka linked Solih with a man identified as Takhir Yuldash, an alleged Wahhabi frequently accused of trying to seize power in Uzbekistan.

Solih responded that the investigation of the bombings and the arrests which have followed show the Uzbek government is using the bombings to try to eliminate opposition in advance of parliamentary elections due to be held later this year.

"The Uzbek government knows that neither the Erk Party ... nor I or my brothers ... were involved with these blasts. ... The reason these articles were printed was not to defend the people who were injured in these blasts and the reason is not to find the organizers of these blasts but to put the regime in a most comfortable position ahead of parliamentary elections and to make passive its opponents and to isolate them from the election process."

Although he says he knows many of the journalists in Uzbekistan, Solih told RFE/RL that he does not know who is responsible for these articles. He said "there are many writers and poets who continue to write such things against parties and organizations as they did in Soviet times."

Those arrested following the bombings include two of Solih's brothers, who are still living in Uzbekistan. Some sources claim as many as 500 people have been arrested inside Uzbekistan, despite Karimov's claims that the bombings were planned outside the country with the help of a foreign government.

Solih believes the truth will be self-evident and that people will not be fooled by attempts to link him with the bombings. "One can say anything," Solih said, "but the facts are facts."