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Uzbekistan's President -- The Osh Mayor's Friend?

Osh Mayor Melis Myrzakmatov

Osh Mayor Melis Myrzakmatov

You might think the president of a country called Uzbekistan -- literally, the land of the Uzbek -- wouldn't be well disposed to the mayor of a city in a neighboring country where scores of Uzbeks were killed last June. But you'd be wrong, at least according to the mayor of Kyrgyzstan's second city, Osh.

I met Mayor Melis Myrzakmatov in late July. I'd heard about him, a lot about him, during my trip to Osh in June, especially from the Uzbek population of the city. But what I couldn't expect was that when we met, on the mayor's desk would be a copy of the Holy Koran and a small book written by Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

I don't remember that Myrzakmatov quoted from the Koran but I do remember him picking up the small book and quoting Karimov. On the way out of his office he made sure I received a copy of the newspaper "Osh shamy" that had large pictures of Myrzakmatov and Karimov on the front page (Karimov's picture on top, of course).

Karimov (above) and Myrzakmatov share a page, if not an opinion on the OSCE.
Myrzakmatov went to Bishkek toward the end of August and the government in the capital, Myrzakmatov claimed upon his return, failed in its attempt to detain him and have him removed as Osh mayor. Even as a triumphant Myrzakmatov made these claims before a crowd outside his office, he again quoted President Karimov.

Strange, I thought, that the ethnic Kyrgyz mayor of a city where Kyrgyz had killed a large number of Uzbeks would have such a model, a hero even. I wondered if it wasn't out of fear more than respect that Myrzakmatov so publicly displayed respect for the Uzbek president. Like him or not, Karimov is a tough customer and he commands the best security service in Central Asia.

In any case, Karimov has not said anything about Myrzakmatov. But Karimov may have had Myrzakmatov in mind when the he addressed the UN Millennium Development Goals summit in New York on September 20. Karimov said there should be an international investigation into the June events in southern Kyrgyzstan (no Andijon comments please, one topic at a time).

That probably wouldn't sit well with Myrzakmatov. Kyrgyzstan's government agreed to have a small group of unarmed OSCE police sent to southern Kyrgyzstan since local forces proved inadequate to stop the violence in June and reports of police and security forces targeting Uzbek neighborhoods continue as of late September.

Myrzakmatov has been at the forefront of efforts to call off sending these foreign police to his city. The Osh mayor claims he speaks for the people of the city (though I can guarantee that the city's Uzbeks want the OSCE police there).

But now Myrzakmatov's "friend" is calling for a much more invasive foreign presence in Osh.

I wonder if the Osh mayor will be quoting any of the Uzbek president's speech at the UN.

-- Bruce Pannier

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