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Uzbekistan: Opposition Creates Coalition Of Democratic Forces

Uzbek oppositionists have created a new united front, the Coalition of Democratic Forces. The coalition, also named "Serquyosh Uzbekistonim" (My Sunny Uzbekistan), is a joint effort between the unregistered opposition Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) party, prominent opposition members, and human rights activists. As leaders launched the new group yesterday, they announced their program -- which includes some ambitious economic reforms.

Prague, 21 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Nigora Hidoyatova says Uzbekistan has two choices: "revolution or radical liberalization."

"We need to get over this cataclysm and crisis, but our country is so weak at present that revolution will have a rather devastating effect. Therefore, we need to implement reforms and cardinal changes. Otherwise, civil war is likely to start," Hidoyatova says.

Hidoyatova is the leader of the unregistered opposition Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) party and one of the founders of the new Coalition of Democratic Forces.

Hidoyatova says the coalition -- also called "Serquyosh Uzbekistonim" (My Sunny Uzbekistan) -- is the opposition' s first attempt to unite and put together a common platform.

She tells RFE/RL that the initiative will have a positive effect because it unites fragmented opposition forces.

"Yes, this is the first time [the opposition has united]. As you know, coalitions are usually based on a common goal. To create them, one needs to forget about personal ambitions and try to reach a common goal. It is important for any coalition," Hidoyatova says.
Outspoken opponents of the current Uzbek regime such as Dadakhon Hasanov, a famous Uzbek poet and singer and Talib Yakubov, a prominent human rights activist, and several entrepreneurs have come out in support of the coalition.

Outspoken opponents of the current Uzbek regime such as Dadakhon Hasanov, a famous Uzbek poet and singer and Talib Yakubov, a prominent human rights activist, and several entrepreneurs have come out in support of the coalition.

But some oppositionists are not convinced.

Muhammad Salih is a leader of the opposition Erk party living in exile in Europe. He tells RFE/RL that he welcomes any move aimed at uniting Uzbekistan' s democratic forces. However, he is very skeptical about "Serquyosh Uzbekistonim" as he says the coalition is based on individual ambitions.

"It' s called the Coalition of Democratic Forces. Our party also considers itself one of [these] democratic forces. [However], this organization comprising several individuals cannot be called a coalition. It' s rather a group. Calling it a Coalition of Democratic Forces is a big exaggeration. We welcome the recent initiative as there is a good intention [there], however, we don' t see a solid platform," says Salih.

Salih says that he did not receive an invitation to join the coalition.

High on the coalition's agenda are economic reforms. The coalition says the first step in reforming the economy should be the mass privatization of land and partial privatization of industry.

Nadira Hidoyatova, the sister of the Free Peasants leader, is a successful businesswoman in the cotton industry. She says she joined the coalition because it is pushing for reforms that will benefit businesses.

"This is a coalition of people who want political and economic changes. I am more interested in economic changes, because as an entrepreneur I realize that it is impossible for us to continue working in this environment. Today, I see complete stagnation in the industry, especially in the textile sector. Investors leave Uzbekistan en masse because the situation is unbearable," says Hidoyatova.

The group insists the privatization process must be absolutely transparent in order to prevent corruption. However, coalition members say the government should maintain control of the country' s gold and uranium production.

The coalition leaders also say that anti-monopoly regulation must be tightened, particularly in the cotton industry. The reforms would mean n-o one company could control more than 20 percent of the sector.

At present, the state controls the cotton industry and has full right to buy cotton from farmers at fixed prices that are usually much lower than market prices. This system forces many Uzbek farmers to seek other options, such as illegally crossing the border to sell cotton in neighboring Kazakhstan.

Nigora Hidoyatova says these are only suggestions and Uzbek economists, as well as their colleagues from the University of Chicago, are working out a comprehensive program.

"In order to get over the economic crisis [which Uzbekistan is in now], we propose radical economic reforms. As you see, our suggestions include the whole spectrum of issues such as privatization, reforms in agriculture and also industry. But this is only a concept. I anticipate doubts and questions on how to privatize land, whether our proposals are populist or not. We are going to work out a more detailed plan and will announce it through the media," Hidoyatova says.

Nigora Hidoyatova says at the moment the coalition is against a revolution, as seen recently in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

She says the coalition will try to work with the Uzbek authorities to implement the suggested reforms. She adds that the authorities should also get over their ambitions or prejudices against the opposition and look at the coalition' s proposals.

As of yet, there has been no official reaction to the creation of the coalition or its economic proposals.

Nadira Hidoyatova says the Uzbek government has no other options. It must open a dialogue with the coalition:

"I want to have a discussion [with Uzbek authorities] about working conditions, or the state policy on small- and medium-size businesses. I want an open dialogue on what the problem is about and why businesspeople leave Uzbekistan. If they don' t want to discuss it, they will face horrible consequences tomorrow. Today' s situation has led to the total impoverishment and unemployment of [our] people. These are the explosive ingredients of revolution. People' s deepening despair will inevitably lead to a social explosion. Dialogue could ease social tension," Hidoyatova says.

Whether or not the Uzbek authorities recognize the coalition might be the least of "My Sunny Uzbekistan's" worries.

The bigger problem the coalition faces is the fragmented opposition.

Muhammad Salih, the leader of the opposition Erk party, tells RFE/RL that his party is also preparing a new program of reforms and plans to unify various "democratic" forces.

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