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Uzbekistan: Leader Of Andijon Protests Speaks To RFE/RL

Uzbek troops in Andijon "Bloody Friday" is the name Uzbeks have given to the events in the eastern city of Andijon on 13 May. But despite the fact that a lot has been written and told about what happened that day, the truth remains unclear. Uzbek authorities tell their story; human rights activists, political oppositionists, and protesters give another account. Qobiljon Parpiev was among the protesters who seized the regional administration building in Andijon on 13 May and held negotiations with Uzbek Interior Minister Zakir Almatov. He escaped shootings by Uzbek forces that reportedly killed hundreds of civilians, and fled Uzbekistan. Parpiev recently spoke to RFE/RL with his version of events.

Tashkent, 19 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Qobiljon Parpiev became one of the most wanted men in Uzbekistan after the Andijon events last May.

The 42-year-old says he fled five or six days after the bloodshed and has had to hide in different places, moving several times a week to escape police -- first in Andijon, then in southern Kyrgyzstan. He says he later sought refuge in another country after Uzbek President Islam Karimov cited his name during a visit to Moscow earlier this month, saying "the leader of the Andijon rebels" was hiding in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

At present, Parpiev says he is outside Central Asia and asks RFE/RL not to disclose his location.

An engineer by education and an entrepreneur, Parpiev is married with five children. His oldest daughter is in the Suzaq refugee camp in the Jalal-Abad region of Kyrgyzstan. Parpiev says his oldest son also had to flee Uzbekistan.

In a telephone interview with RFE/RL, Parpiev says security remains a major concern for him and his family. The other concern, he says, is the truth.
Uzbek authorities claim the protesters were terrorists who received assistance from abroad and they used peaceful civilians as human shields while trying to escape.

Parpiev wants people to learn the truth about what happened on "Bloody Friday."

He has worked in various positions, including with the government. A few years ago, Parpiev served a prison term on charges of religious extremism. He says he knew the 23 businessmen from Andijon who had been on trial until 13 May, when clashes between protesters, mainly relatives, and former employees of the businessmen, and government troops erupted and led to hundreds of deaths.

The 23 men were accused of belonging to the banned Islamic group called Akramiya. They deny the charges.

Parpiev says the trial was aimed at eliminating a group of wealthy people in Andijon who practically created a system of governance parallel to the state system. They had their system of collecting taxes and distributing the proceeds to pensioners, women on maternity leave, as well as other charitable activities:

"All of them were entrepreneurs, they provided people with jobs. Different government bodies, including the Union of Entrepreneurs knew about their activity. If foreigners came to Uzbekistan, those people were introduced to foreigners as the best representatives [of Uzbek business circles]. They were involved in social activity. They organized free medical service, pension funds, payments for maternity leave, for children under 2 years old. It brought results very quickly. The number of their employees was growing. People wanted to work for them. I believe the government perceived them as an opposition," Parpiev says.

Parpiev says he was among many people who protested against the trial as unfair outside the courthouse in Andijon. After the trial's last day on 11 May, it was suspended. Parpiev says on 12 May, Uzbek police began arresting protesters and confiscating their property. He also received warning from a friend that police were seeking to detain him.

On the night between 12 and 13 May, a group of people reportedly attacked the city's military garrison and a police unit, and obtained weapons and attacked a local prison to release inmates, including the 23 businessmen. Parpiev says it was act of provocation by the Uzbek authorities.

"On 12 May, troops from other regions were deployed [to Andijon]. Clashes started late at night. [Protesters] didn't get weapons from the garrison. Weapons were taken from soldiers during clashes on the streets. It was a conspiracy, a provocation. Information about attacks on the garrison and prison was a provocation. The scenario of events was made in advance," Parpiev says.

Parpiev claims he was not among attackers and did not have a weapon.

After taking part in seizing the regional administration building, Parpiev held negotiations with Uzbek Interior Minister Zakir Almatov. Parpiev says the conversation was not a negotiation.

"He said we should leave [Uzbekistan]. He said he deployed 20,000 troops in Andijon. He said he could easily raise the number up to 65,000 if needed. He said he wouldn't stand any objections, any talks. He said: 'Take everyone you want and go to Osh [in southern Kyrgyzstan], we are going to give you a corridor.' I felt that he was lying and if we would take buses as he suggested and try to go to Osh, they would just kill all of us. I felt so and we decided to disperse people, to run. He didn't ask whether we had any demands," Parpiev says.

Uzbek authorities claim the protesters were terrorists who received assistance from abroad and they used peaceful civilians as human shields while trying to escape. Parpiev denies that and calls on the international community to arrange an independent probe into the Andijon bloodshed.

"I tell one story, the government tells another story. The two stories are going to contradict each other. [I say] there was no foreign involvement whatsoever, neither from Hizb-ut-Tahrir nor any other group. The only way out of this situation is to conduct an independent investigation as foreign states and the OSCE insist. I say the same thing. An independent probe must be conducted. There are still many eyewitnesses. They will tell a lot," Parpiev says.

Parpiev says his family members, including his wife, a sister, and a 75-year old father who stayed in Andijon face pressure from Uzbek authorities demanding they disclose Parpiev's location.

He says he has not applied for a refugee status with the United Nations. He says he plans to do so now that he's left Central Asia, "where the influence of the Uzbek security service is quite strong."

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