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U.S. Renews Calls For Inquiry Into Uzbek Events

Uzbek President Islam Karimov (file photo) Washington, 25 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. State Department has renewed its call for an independent investigation into the Uzbek crackdown in Andijon in mid-May and pressed the government to enact reforms.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that Uzbek government efforts so far have been inadequate, and he expressed concern at a further tightening of controls.

Limited Influence?

But it is unclear what leverage the U.S. government and other international actors have on the administration of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, given his strong resistance by Tashkent to any outside scrutiny.

Karimov today arrived in China on his first visit abroad since the 13 May crackdown by security forces on protesters in eastern Uzbekistan.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said yesterday that Beijing supports the Uzbek government's efforts to fight terrorism and extremism and to foster cooperation with other Central Asian republics to secure stability and prosperity in the region.

Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday repeated Washington's call for a "credible and transparent assessment" of events in Andijon.

He also said the International Committee of the Red Cross must be allowed full access to hospitals, prisons, and detention centers in the area.

"We're concerned that the government is trying to silence activists through arbitrary arrests and intimidation," Boucher said. "Once again, freedom of speech is essential for the credible accounting of these events, and we've called on these areas to be opened up to journalists, humanitarian workers, UN agencies, and others so that they can go in and find out what happened and take care of people who need their assistance."

Activists Arrested

Among those arrested was rights activist Saidjahon Zainabitdinov.

Boucher called for the release of those arrested unless there is credible evidence of criminal actions.

"Those arrested must be given due process in accordance with international standards including credible evidence of criminal behavior for them to continue to be imprisoned," Boucher said. "If such evidence is not forthcoming, those detained should be released."

Boucher added that the recent tour of the region organized by government officials did not provide much information about events there.

The comments follow Uzbekistan's rejection of previous calls for an independent investigation from a wide range of international actors, including the United Nations, European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Boucher said Washington continues to discuss events in the region with these organizations in public and private.

U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns is expected to discuss Uzbekistan with his counterparts at the NATO-Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council forum in Sweden.

Uzbek representatives failed to show up for the first day of the forum yesterday and were not present today.

Speaking at the meeting in Are, Sweden, today, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov said, "Putting forward a demand for an international investigation as an ultimatum is neither appropriate nor fair."

In Tashkent yesterday, a discussion by the pro-regime parliament included harsh criticism of Western states.

Parliament member Asliddin Rustamov accused Western countries of misleading the world community and contributing to "extremists" plots to overthrow the Uzbek government.

"In particular, the leaders of Great Britain, the United States of America, and the European Union, in spite of existing evidence, started accusing the Uzbek government without any justification," Rustamov said. "These countries and international institutions, not even waiting for Uzbek government's assessment and comments on the Andijon events, issued condemnations based on very well known human rights notions which are widely known to everyone."

Uzbek President Islam Karimov accuses Islamic militants of provoking the 13 May violence in Andijon. He denied reports from journalists and other observers that Uzbek troops fired on unarmed civilians. The government says 169 people, mainly militants, were killed in the violence. But rights activists say several hundred people were killed by Uzbek soldiers.

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