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"And did you bring the certificate?"
The spiritual leaders of Muslim Chechnya have ordered that all couples who plan to marry prove they are HIV-negative.

The Chechen mufti's press service said in a statement this week that "any potential bride or groom is obliged to receive a medical certificate."

The mufti's orders have no legal weight but are generally followed because he is a respected spiritual leader and because of his ties to Chechnya's pro-Moscow leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.

The order comes after the mufti and other spiritual heads demanded last year a total shutdown of all eateries during the holy month of Ramadan and ordered bands of armed men to harass women who did not wear head scarves.

compiled from Reuters reports
Uzbek President Islam Karimov
* Correction appended

A European Commission official says a controversial visit by Uzbek President Islam Karimov to Brussels is part of a European Union policy to strengthen relations with Central Asian countries in such areas as human rights and economic and military cooperation, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

The commission official confirmed to RFE/RL on January 17 that Karimov will make an official EU visit on January 24 and meet with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

It will be Karimov's first visit to Brussels since a massacre by security forces in the southern Uzbek city of Andijon in May 2005 that left hundreds of demonstrators dead.

In October 2005, the EU imposed sanctions on Uzbekistan, including an EU visa ban on 12 Uzbek officials and an arms embargo. Despite continued concerns about human rights in Uzbekistan, the sanctions were lifted by the EU in 2009.

"Central Asia is a critical region for the EU and we therefore want to strengthen our relations with that part of the world through a whole range of activities," an EU official told RFE/RL. "But we will also mention issues where we do not see eye to eye, including human rights [and]...rule of law issues. President Barroso will raise these issues with President Karimov."

The France-based nongovernmental organization Human Rights in Central Asia says it is concerned that such an official European Union reception for Karimov legitimizes his government's disregard for human rights and the rule of law.

"What did Karimov -- who avoided responsibility for the mass killing [in Andijon] -- do to open EU doors? I think we should bring the European community's attention to this," Nadejda Atayeva, leader of Human Rights in Central Asia, told RFE/RL.

Karimov is also scheduled to meet with NATO officials during his visit to Brussels.

Karimov made a short stop in London last year on his way to the United Nations in New York and also made a brief trip in 2009 to Spain, where his daughter is the ambassador.

* The original version of this story said that Karimov's visit was his first to Western Europe since the Andijon massacre.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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