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Central Asia Report: September 30, 2005

30 September 2005, Volume 5, Number 37

WEEK AT A GLANCE (19-25 September). A high-profile killing and a high-ranking dismissal set off a political furor in Kyrgyzstan. Parliamentary deputy and businessman Bayaman Erkinbaev was shot and killed in Bishkek, sending parliament into emergency session. The killing marked the second of a parliamentarian and the fourth headline-grabbing assassination since the fall of President Askar Akaev on 24 March. Meanwhile, President Kurmanbek Bakiev dismissed Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov for bungling an investigation of unrest in the south, including a suspected contract killing that involved business interests linked to Erkinbaev. Beknazarov's supporters demonstrated in his native Aksy District to show their support for him, while Bakiev hinted that there might still be a place in government for Beknazarov.

Elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov visited, bringing with him $3 million in military aid. For his part, President Bakiev suggested that the United States should pay more for its air base in Manas. Parliament voted to strip Aidar Akaev, son of former President Askar, of his immunity from prosecution so that he can face corruption charges. And the Asian Development Bank signed a memorandum of understanding to provide Kyrgyzstan with $60 million in aid.

Tajikistan held three days of antiterrorist training exercises involving forces from the Defense Ministry, National Security Ministry, Interior Ministry, and border troops. And President Imomali Rakhmonov announced that "there has not been and there will not be a U.S. military [base] on the territory of Tajikistan." Rakhmonov stressed that Tajikistan's only agreement on the establishment of a permanent military base is with Russia.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov chided regional officials for the slow pace of the cotton harvest, threatening to take measures if the situation does not improve. Meanwhile, an analyst at the Asian Development Bank said that while Turkmenistan's Daulatabad gas field "has gross reserves of 1.4 trillion cubic meters of gas...production forecasts are lower than expected," suggesting that the field may not be sufficient to justify the construction of a planned pipeline from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

The trial of 15 men, three of them Kyrgyz citizens, for active involvement in the violence in Andijon on 12-13 May began on 20 September in Uzbekistan's Supreme Court. The defendants all entered guilty pleas on the first day, with their subsequent testimony conforming to previous official statements that described the violence as the work of religious extremists bent on establishing a caliphate. As the trial began, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International released reports on human rights abuses during and after the violence in Andijon, citing eyewitness testimony and arguing that the Uzbek government is involved in a cover-up. And Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov visited as the two countries embarked on their first-ever joint military exercises, which involve 200 Russian airborne and military intelligence troops.

MESSAGE IN A COURTROOM -- THE ANDIJON TRIAL. If the purpose of a trial is to establish guilt or innocence, the judicial proceedings currently under way in Uzbekistan's Supreme Court achieved their aim on the very first day. On 20 September, court went into session and 15 men accused of active involvement in the violence that rocked Andijon on 12-13 May pronounced themselves guilty as charged -- of murder, terrorism, hostage-taking, an attempt to overthrow the country's constitutional system, and myriad other crimes. But as the fact of the trial's continuation indicates, and as its substance has made abundantly clear, it is not about guilt, innocence, or even the actions of 15 men.

Since the defendants have already admitted their guilt, the trial has consisted primarily of their testimony. That testimony has reiterated and reinforced a version of events in Andijon presented by the Prosecutor-General's Office to a parliamentary commission on 5-6 September and by First Deputy Prosecutor-General Anvar Nabiev at a briefing for journalists on 15 September. Boiled down to its basic elements, the proffered explanation of what happened in Andijon on 12-13 May is that a vast conspiracy involving -- in no particular order -- the BBC, RFE/RL, Chechen military instructors, NGOs, training camps in Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, and extremists linked to Al-Qaeda aimed to spark a Georgia/Ukraine/Kyrgyz-style revolution in Andijon in order to transform Uzbekistan into an Islamic state that would serve as the launching pad for a drive to establish a worldwide caliphate.

Case For The Prosecution

Prosecutors laid out the basics in an indictment on 20 September, the first day of the trial. They said that the accused were members of an alleged extremist group called Akramiya with links to the Islamic Movement of Turkestan (formerly known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a group that developed close links with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan before the U.S.-led military operation in 2001) and Hizb ut-Tahrir. Prosecutors also alleged that BBC correspondent Matluba Azamatova, Institute for War and Peace Reporting correspondent Galima Bukharbaeva, and RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitskii had advance knowledge of the violence about to break out in Andijon.

Testimony from the defendants provided direct and indirect confirmation of these claims. Moydin Sobirov testified on 21 September that unidentified foreign media outlets conspired with the rebels, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. According to Sobirov, "Foreign defenders and the media supported our goals. Following the advice of foreign media, protests were organized near the Andijon court [in the lead-up to the violence on 12-13 May] in order to destabilize Uzbekistan." On 27 September, Ilhomjon Hojiev told the court that Tohir Yoldoshev, the fugitive leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and a known consort of Osama Bin Laden, sent $200,000 to fund the operation. Hojiev received the money in Russia from an individual he identified as Qobilhoji Qosimkhojaev, who requested that the rebels call him once they started their operations so that he could pass the information on to Yoldoshev.

Tohir Yoldoshev's IMU, officially listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, was supposedly not the accused militants' sole source of financial support. Tavakkal Hojiev testified on 26 September that he heard from Qobil Parpiev, who has been identified by Uzbek authorities as one of the masterminds behind the violence, that the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent provided funds for the uprising. AP quoted Hojiev as saying, "I was told that our people received money from the American embassy."

On 22 September, Abdulhafiz Ghoziev testified that a Chechen militant provided military training to Akramiya members in Osh, Kyrgyzstan before the violence in May, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Three of the defendants are Kyrgyz citizens. One of them, Lochinbek Imonqulov, told the court on 23 September that on 13 May he saw "most of my brothers from Osh [located in southern Kyrgyzstan] with pistols and automatic weapons in their hands. Seventy of us had arrived from Kyrgyzstan that day." Moydin Sobirov also testified on 21 September that "spiritual leader" Akrom Mamadaliev brought "80 armed individuals and 25 unarmed people" from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan to take part in the violence in Andijon.

The goal the rebels pursued was as global as the elements of the conspiracy were disparate. As Muhammadshokir Ortiqov testified on 23 September, he and his fellow extremists strove for "the creation of a caliphate, first in Uzbekistan, and then in the whole world."

Broader Messages

The preceding suggests that the purpose of this judicial exercise warrants somewhat more scrutiny than its plausibility. As was noted at the outset, guilt and innocence are not at issue, for the defendants have all confessed their guilt. What is at issue becomes clearer if the trial is viewed not in terms of its claims and the confessions that support them, but in terms of the broader messages they imply.

One message is that the most important lesson of the violence in Andijon was that it represented an organized threat to state power and that the state reacted responsibly. This is at variance with the stance taken by Western governments and international organizations, which did not deny that violent unrest took place in Andijon but focused on subsequent eyewitness accounts that the government employed grotesquely disproportionate force to quell the unrest, possibly killing hundreds. Reports of a massacre prompted calls for an international inquiry from numerous quarters, including the U.S. government.

The Uzbek government, which maintains that 187 people were killed in the violence and blames militants for civilian deaths, has rejected calls for an international investigation and refused to consider the possibility that security forces overreacted to unrest. The first trial of Andijon defendants has reinforced that message with its focus on the threat to state power from extremists bent on the creation of a caliphate. Moreover, defendants' testimony has specifically rebutted the allegations that formed the core of the Western response to the Andijon violence. Abdubois Ibragimov told the court on 23 September that soldiers did not fire at unarmed civilians, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Abdulhafiz Ghoziev testified on 22 September that militants, not government forces, were responsible for the violence. He said, "I didn't see any soldiers firing. Quite the opposite, our brothers showed that they didn't know how to use weapons and didn't have any experience. We shot [each other] as a result of indiscriminate firing."

This is not the only testimony that appears to come in response to allegations of government wrongdoing. Rights organizations, in particular the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), have documented considerable evidence that coerced testimony formed the cornerstone of previous trials of alleged militants. On 20 September, the same day the trial began, HRW issued a report ("Burying the Truth: Uzbekistan rewrites the story of the Andijon massacre") that it described on its website as containing "numerous first-hand testimonies of a brutal police campaign forcing people to 'confess' that they belong to extremist religious organizations, that the protests in Andijan were violent, and that the protesters were armed." In testimony on 22 September, Azizbek Yusupov seemed to parry those very charges, telling the court that "despite the terrorist acts I committed, as [members of the alleged extremist movement] Akramiya have explained, there was no torture during the investigation." He stressed, "Law enforcement officers treated me with proper attention to human rights."

Dark Forces

Another message the trial sends is that Uzbekistan now faces a daunting array of increasingly specific threats. In the trials that followed terror attacks in 2004, the religious extremists Uzbekistan's government has traditionally identified as its gravest menace spoke of shadowy operational links to international terror groups and ideological ties to Hizb ut-Tahrir. In a 29 March 2004 address to the nation, President Islam Karimov saw "dark forces" at work in the violence then unfolding in Tashkent. But the current trial, with its insinuations of IMU and U.S. embassy money sloshing through Kyrgyz training camps staffed by Chechen instructors, adds dastardly details to the "dark forces" even as it expands their scope.

The "revelation" of U.S. funding for the Andijon rebels, perhaps the most sensational aspect of the trial thus far, also sent the most nuanced message. While it cast the U.S. role in Uzbekistan in a sinister light, it did so obliquely -- Tavakkal Hojiev did not give a firsthand account, but rather said that he "heard" from Qobil Parpiev, currently in hiding at an unknown location, that the transfer of funds took place. Moreover, by curious coincidence, Hojiev's incendiary testimony emerged on the same day that a high-ranking U.S. delegation arrived in Tashkent for talks with President Islam Karimov.

Against this inauspicious backdrop, initial reports indicated that the negotiations produced no breakthroughs. In remarks to journalists after a 27 September meeting with Karimov, Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Daniel Fried, who led the U.S. delegation, confirmed that the United States will comply with a recent Uzbek request to vacate the U.S. air base in Karshi-Khanabad. He also said that democratic principles are the bedrock of U.S. cooperation with other countries and dismissed the various accusations against the United States that the trial has featured, reported. According to the BBC, Fried described the specific allegation that the U.S. funded unrest in Andijon as "ludicrous," adding, "The assertion that the US supports an attack by Islamic extremists after fighting four years against exactly such people is not credible."

In the end, however, the primary message of the trial is directed at the citizens of Uzbekistan. The trial tells them that the rebels in Andijon were willing and able to resort to violence and had far-flung, well-heeled supporters. Yet it also tells them that for all this the rebels' evil plans came to naught, because they now await justice caged in a courtroom, and that their will did not hold, because they have all confessed their guilt. The message this sends is that the state stands strong with President Karimov at the helm. But just as time will eventually test the accuracy of the trial's claims, so too will it reveal the credibility of its messages. (Daniel Kimmage. Originally published on 28 September.)

DEPARTURE FROM BASE UNDERLINES U.S.-UZBEK TENSIONS. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried was in Tashkent on 27 September to formalize what was already known for two months -- the U.S. military is leaving Uzbekistan by the end of this year.

After Fried's meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Uzbek presidential spokesman Beruniy Olimov tried to put a good face on the results. "During the talks between Islam Karimov and Daniel Fried, the issues of the current state of and prospects for Uzbek -- U.S relations were discussed. Also, the fate of cooperation in regional security was discussed during the meeting," Olimov said.

But Fried plainly said that "we intend to leave the base without further discussion." He could have added that the state of U.S.-Uzbek relations was the worst it has been since the Soviet Union collapsed.

When the United States deployed troops in Uzbekistan after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, it represented a high point in ties between the two countries. President Karimov had long worried about the Taliban government in neighboring Afghanistan. By granting the United States use of the air base at Khanabad in southern Uzbekistan he quickly improved his country's ties to the United States and welcomed the U.S.-led coalition's chasing the Taliban from power.

In 2002, Karimov met U.S. President George Bush in Washington, who expressed his appreciation of Tashkent's support in the war on terror. Later, back in Uzbekistan, Karimov told reporters the United States had done for Uzbekistan what no CIS partner could have. Karimov said after five years of living with the threat of the Taliban, "the decisive role in removing this threat on Uzbekistan southern borders was played by the U.S., exclusively."

But the tone of U.S.-Uzbek relations changed beginning in May this year.

That was when protests against the trials of local businessmen in eastern Uzbekistan turned violent. Armed men attacked a police station, stormed a high-security jail break to free inmates, and briefly seized part of the city of Andijon. The Uzbek government responded by pouring in troops. Human rights groups say hundreds of civilians died when troops fired on protestors. The Uzbek government said less than 200 died, and claimed most of those were "terrorists" and the soldiers, police, and local officials who resisted them.

The United States condemned the Uzbek government's crackdown in Andijon. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher gave Washington's view this way just days after the violence.

"We are deeply disturbed by the reports that the Uzbek authorities fired on demonstrators last Friday. 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," Boucher said.

The United States was among many insisting upon an independent investigation into the Andijon events. But Uzbekistan sought shelter from international criticism and found it in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which groups Uzbekistan with Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. At the SCO summit in July, the group approved a call for the United States to name a date for its departure from bases in Central Asia.

At the time, U.S. officials blamed China and Russia for pressuring the Central Asian states into demanding the U.S. name a date for leaving.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Lawrence Di Rita pointed to the importance of the Uzbek base and said it was Uzbekistan and not the SCO who should decide how long the United States could use Khanabad.

"I hadn't seen the declaration or whatever it was that the group put out. It's a facility that is -- that the United States government and, in fact, the coalition have found to be an important -- providing an important capability in the global war on terror. It's one that we have operated from with the consent and the cooperation of the Uzbek government. It's a decision the Uzbek government has to make as to whether or not we would continue to operate from that. It's a -- it has provided for -- in particular in Afghanistan -- some very important support capabilities. But it's a determination ultimately that the Uzbek government will have to make," Di Rita said.

In the following weeks, Tashkent made it clear that it wanted U.S. forces out of the country. Uzbek media started reporting about the detrimental effect the Khanabad base was having on the local population. Then in late July, the Uzbek government told the United States it should vacate Khanabad by year's end.

The deputy chairwoman of the Uzbek Senate, Farruh Muhitdinova, presented the Uzbek government's concerns about the U.S. presence this way. "The current presence of U.S. military contingent in Khanabad air base threatens internal and external security of Uzbekistan. The internal security issue consists of serious damage to the health, economic interests, and ecology of the local population, as well as a number of inconveniences created for them. As to the external threat, as the president [Karimov] says, if a military base is established in any region, forces against it and aimed at destroying it will inevitably appear. Therefore, the fewer the number of military bases in Central Asia, or if their presence in this region is eliminated, the greater are the chances to establish peace and stability in this very region," Muhitdinova said.

As the United States prepares to leave Khanabad there are other signs of strains in Washington's relations with Uzbekistan.

This month, an Uzbek court suspended the activities of IREX, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization specializing in education, independent media, Internet development, and civil society programs.

Another court decision this month closed the U.S.-based media charity Internews.

And this week, a suspect in the Andijon violence testified in court that the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent provided funds for what the Uzbek government calls "Islamic terrorists" to stage their revolt in May. (Bruce Pannier. Originally published on 28 September.)

DEFENDANTS IN ANDIJON TRIAL REITERATE GUILT, BLAME OTHERS. The trial of 15 people accused of launching an antigovernment uprising in the Uzbek town of Andijon in May is in its second week. The defendants allegedly behind the May uprising in the eastern Uzbek town of Andijon are confessing to the charges and saying foreign countries instigated the revolt.

One of the defendants, Tavakalbek Hojiev, said yesterday that the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent financially supported the uprising. He did not provide any evidence but said he was informed about the fact by another man -- Qobiljon Parpiev -- whom the Uzbek government has accused of helping instigate the violence.

"He [Parpiev] told me that the U.S. Embassy has allocated the money [for the uprising.]" Hojiev said. "And if our action in Andijon would not succeed we had to leave for Kyrgyzstan. He said that this was the plan. According to this plan, we left for Kyrgyzstan."

Parpiev was among the protesters who seized the regional administration building in Andijon on 13 May. He escaped when Uzbek forces opened fire on protestors, and fled the country.

Hojiev said the aim of foreign countries allegedly assisting the revolt was to overthrow the Uzbek government by provoking a "colored revolution."

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, speaking on 26 September at a news briefing in Washington, denied any links between the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent and the Andijon unrest.

"With respect to Andijon, we continue to support an independent, international inquiry," McCormack said. "As for Embassy involvement in this tragic incident, this has come up before and there's just no basis for it."

Alex Vatanka, the Eurasia editor of the London-based publication "Jane's Country Risk," told RFE/RL that allegations about U.S. involvement in Andijon are not convincing.

"How the American Embassy could have been that catalyst for that [Andijon unrest], or anybody else -- external forces? -- is beyond me," Vatanka said. "I just could not see that happening, and I think it is really [incredible]. We are getting ourselves into a sort of Central Asian conspiracy theories and so on."

The United States is not the only country accused of being behind the events in Andijon.

Three defendants -- all ethnic Uzbeks with Kyrgyz citizenship -- said yesterday that they received training at a camp in Kyrgyzstan. One of them, identified as Burkhanov, said one of the instructors was a red-haired, blue-eyed Chechen named Mamed who taught them how to operate weapons and dig trenches.

"Three of us were brought to a firing range in Teke [a village in the Osh region of Kyrgyzstan]," Burkhanov said. "When we arrived, there were three strangers besides people we already knew. We greeted them and [alleged militant] Akrom Mamadaliev introduced them to us. One of them was named Mamed. He had red hair, blue eyes, and a beard. Then Akrom Mamadaliev told that man [Mamed] and another man to train us. Then we stepped into a room and Mamed showed us how to disassemble and assemble [a weapon]."

Kyrgyz authorities have refuted any efforts to link Kyrgyzstan to the events in Andijon.

Vatanka said it is a practice of the Uzbek authorities to look for enemies outside the country. But he said that the biggest problem is the lack of democracy in Uzbekistan itself. "That comes down to one issue and that's the fact that the regime is not representative," Vatanka said. "It is seen as repressive. Things of this nature [the violence in Andijon] will simply happen. You can blame it or not on outsiders and hope it will go away, but the fact is they [the problems] are not going away."

Meanwhile, human rights groups say Uzbek authorities routinely force people to make false confessions, and many groups have described the trial as an attempt to cover up what they say was a massacre of civilians by Uzbek forces.

The Andijon uprising erupted in May when militants seized a prison and freed 23 businessmen who had been on trial for alleged Islamic extremism. The attackers also seized a local administration building and took hostages. Thousands of demonstrators gathered in an adjacent square to press economic and social grievances.

Human rights groups and refugees who fled to Kyrgyzstan claim that the revolt led to a brutal government crackdown that led to the deaths of more than 700 people, mostly civilians who were shot while trying to flee the square.

The Uzbek government of President Islam Karimov says that 187 people died, mostly militants. (Valentinas Mite. Originally published on 27 September.)

UZBEK MILITARY EXERCISES WITH RUSSIA TIMELY FOR TASHKENT. Russia and Uzbekistan have been engaged in joint military exercises this week, the first the two countries have ever held. Such an event was unthinkable just a few years ago but ties between the two countries have been warming. And though the exercises were already being planned last year, analysts say they could not come at a better time for Uzbekistan.

Russia and Uzbekistan have participated in multinational exercises alongside troops from other nations, but never had they engaged in military exercises involving just the two of them. The current operations began on 19 September and ended on 24 September

Alex Vatanka, the Eurasia editor of the London-based Jane's Country Risk, told RFE/RL the significance of the event is not the exercises themselves. "It's pretty significant politically, but from a military point of view these exercises are on a fairly limited scale," he said. "This is not seriously going to improve the Uzbek capability or teach the Russians particularly anything useful, but it is a very important political gesture."

Indeed, the two countries have not enjoyed the best of relations. But recently, their ties have grown warmer, due in part to the international uproar over alleged Uzbek human rights abuses and the presence of U.S. troops in Central Asia -- a fact Russia clearly has never welcomed.

Gregory Gleason of the University of New Mexico specializes in Central Asia. He compared the warming relations with the early of days of Uzbek independence after 1991, when Tashkent had both the opportunity and the incentive to part ways with Russia.

"In the early years of the Boris Yeltsin administration, the first minister of foreign affairs, Andrei Kozyrev, saw the region of Central Asia as a region of minimal significance to the economic goals of Russia, but also saw the former border of the Soviet Union as the line that defined the sphere of influence of Moscow in the region," Gleason told RFE/RL. "And as a consequence, Moscow continued to think of Central Asia as an area that was under the control, basically, of Russian foreign policy."

Gleason said Tashkent quickly showed its resistance to Russian influence on its soil, adding that one problem "was the emphasis that [President Islam] Karimov had upon the reassertion of Uzbek national rights, and some of that resulted very clearly in that early period in the elimination of Russian culture from the region."

The situation grew so bad that then Foreign Minister Kozyrev said in 1995 that Moscow was prepared to use force to protect ethnic Russians abroad. Though Uzbekistan was not specifically mentioned, Tashkent bristled at the comment.

Russian media also hammered away at the situation in Uzbekistan. In response, Tashkent cut off most Russian media to Uzbekistan. A journalist for Russia's Interfax news agency in Uzbekistan turned up dead in a Tashkent canal. The media war spilled over into other areas of bilateral relations.

"The gradual reduction of the availability of those materials [newspapers, magazines, and television and radio broadcasts] was very apparent in Moscow and much criticized by Moscow and the Russian media analysts and journalists," Gleason said. "And this resulted in a cooling of relations between the Karimov government and the Russian government, and that was reflected as well in a reduction of trade."

Karimov objected to Russia's military in neighboring countries and criticized their leaders, saying no nation whose security depended on foreign forces was truly independent.

Moscow and Tashkent were alternately allies and competitors during the 1992-97 Tajik civil war. Each helped the Tajik government fight the mainly Islamic opposition, but each had their own idea about how peacetime Tajikistan should look. Any cooperation between Uzbekistan and Russia was gone months before the Tajik peace accord was signed in June 1997.

Vatanka said by the end of the 1990s, Karimov saw Russia as a competitor in a region he wanted Uzbekistan to dominate. "We know for a long time President Karimov was, if anything, very suspicious of the Russians," he noted. "Only a few years ago, if we go back to 1998 or 1999, there were Uzbek accusations that the Russians were involved in incitement in Uzbekistan to get rid of the regime of Karimov."

Vatanka and Gleason agreed that Uzbek-Russian ties have improved since Vladimir Putin became Russia's president. Putin's first foreign visit after being elected in 2000 was to Uzbekistan. He has since been back twice on state visits. In comparison, Yeltsin made one state visit and had to cut that short when he fell ill in Tashkent.

The joint military exercises were announced last year, but for the Uzbek government, holding them now has been fortunate timing. Violence in May in the eastern city of Andijon, where hundreds were reportedly killed in clashes between protesters and troops, and Tashkent's refusal to allow an international investigation into the incident have strained Tashkent's relations with several governments, including Washington.

In July, Tashkent told the U.S. military to vacate the base in Khanabad that the U.S.-led coalition forces had used for operations in Afghanistan since 2001.

Throughout Tashkent's diplomatic crisis over Andijon, Russia has backed the Uzbek government. Vatanka noted that support comes at little cost to Russia but promises rewards. "As far as Russia's concerned, right now at least was fairly convenient for the Russians to kind of help the Karimov regime out when the hammer fell on Tashkent following Andijon," he told RFE/RL. "So it was a desperate situation for Uzbekistan where Russia was willing to reach out. The political, economic and military costs for Russia have been very limited, and yet the prize that it [Russia] could reap was obviously fairly high."

The biggest payoff for Moscow is the departure of U.S. troops from Uzbekistan, which removed a strategic thorn from Russia's southern flank.

But Vatanka said both Tashkent and Moscow share other concerns. Both are worried, he said, about what they see as U.S.-backed "colored revolutions" that have occurred in three nations -- Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan -- of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). And both Russia and Uzbekistan have suffered more acts of terrorism than any other CIS countries. (Bruce Pannier. Originally published on 23 September.)

KYRGYZ LAWMAKER KILLED IN APPARENT MAFIA-RELATED SHOOTING. Kyrgyz lawmaker and businessman Bayaman Erkinbaev was shot in Bishkek on the night of 21 September. Erkinbaev, who was for a brief time among the country's presidential contenders earlier this year, had alleged connections to criminal groups in the southern Osh area. He is the second parliamentary deputy to be killed since June. His killing comes after a warning by Kyrgyzstan's ombudsman that contract killings were on the rise in the country. The Kyrgyz parliament held an emergency session on the killing on 22 September, with both President Kurmanbek Bakiev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov in attendance.

Erkinbaev died in a Bishkek hospital after being shot several times outside his house. Controversy seemed to follow the lawmaker since a previous attempt on his life in April. At the time, Erkinbaev said the attack was linked to his presidential bid. "With full responsibility I declare that this [assassination attempt] is a political order which I believe is linked to my decision to run for president," he said at the time.

But there may have been other reasons -- Erkinbaev's alleged criminal ties among them.

In June, violence broke out in his native Osh region when guards fired guns into the air to disperse a crowd of angry protesters gathered outside an Osh hotel believed to be owned by Erkinbaev. The protesters were primarily merchants from the Kara-suu bazaar, one of the biggest such markets in Central Asia.

Erkinbaev allegedly held large financial interests in the Kara-suu bazaar. Several recent articles in the Kyrgyz press and on the Internet accused Erkinbaev of being involved in a number of illegal business ventures, including some linked to the market.

At the emergency parliamentary session, Bakiev suggested Erkinbaev's murder was the work of a criminal group. Bakiev then criticized the country's law enforcement bodies as ineffective, and accused them of maintaining their own connections to mafia rings.

"The fact that criminal elements have merged with law enforcement agencies is not news to anybody. You all know this perfectly well, too. Among those sitting here are people who know perfectly well about it, who know who is connected to whom and how they are connected," Bakiev said.

Bakiev then lashed out at deputies, saying many of them, too, were at odds with the law, and possibly even involved with organized crime. His comments prompted acting Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov to offer his resignation.

Prime Minister Feliks Kulov said Erkinbaev visited him only on 18 September and expressed fears that there would be an attempt on his life.

"I met with Bayaman Erkinbaev on Sunday [18 September]. He was very alarmed when he came to see me. He told me whom he suspected [of trying to kill him]and he asked me to name that person if he [Erkinbaev] was killed. And I will give that person's name to the investigators," Kulov said.

In June, lawmaker Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev was killed in Bishkek. He too was alleged to have had criminal ties, and his murder was believed to have been tied to a dispute with Kyrgyz mafia groups.

Deputy Melis Eshimkanov said on 22 September that Erkinbaev's murder was part of a chain of events that included Surabaldiev's killing.

Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu warned earlier this month that contract killings in Kyrgyzstan were on the rise and great efforts were needed to bring the situation under control. (Bruce Pannier, with contributions from Amirbek Usmonov and Janyl Chytyrbaeva of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. Originally published on 22 September.)