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Uzbek Students Protest Tajik Aluminum Plant

A barge operator on the Amu Darya river near the Uzbek border town of Termez

A barge operator on the Amu Darya river near the Uzbek border town of Termez

TERMEZ, Uzbekistan -- Around 1,000 students and university professors in the southern Uzbek town of Termez have protested against neighboring Tajikistan's plan to expand its aluminum plant near Uzbek territory, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported.

Participants in the March 25 protest said industrial waste from the plant has caused serious health and environmental problems in Sariosiyo, Uzun, Denov, and other districts of Uzbekistan's southeastern Surkhondaryo Province.

The aluminum plant, run by the Tajik Aluminum Company (Talco), was launched in late March 1975 in close proximity to the border with Uzbekistan.

Uzbek ecology movements have repeatedly said the plant has contaminated water, air, and soil in Surkhondaryo for over 35 years, resulting in an increase of pollution-related diseases among the local population.

According to Uzbek environmentalists, high rates of pulmonary and digestive diseases and blood disorders among Surkhondaryo residents are connected to pollution caused by the aluminum plant.

Tajik authorities have denied such accusations.

The protest action in Termez came two days after the Uzbek ambassador in Dushanbe was summoned by Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry to hand over a protest note over some 1,000 Tajik rail freight cars blocked in Uzbek rail stations.

According to reports by RFE/RL's Tajik and Uzbek services, Uzbek railway officials since early February had blocked the cargo train wagons transiting through Uzbekistan, citing technical reasons.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service quoted Tajikistan's railway officials as saying the freight cars were carrying raw alumina for the Talco plant, a few bulldozers for the construction of the country's Roghun hydropower station, fuel, and some nonmilitary cargo for international forces in Afghanistan.

The Uzbek Embassy in Dushanbe said today that some of the trains have already left for Tajikistan.

The embassy rejected a claim by Tajik authorities that political motives were behind the hold-up.

Relations have cooled between the two neighbors in recent months over Tajikistan's plans to complete the construction of its key Roghun power plant despite Tashkent's objections.

Uzbekistan says the Roghun plant will leave it facing water shortages.