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Uzbek Opposition Leader's Trial Opens, Quickly Adjourns

Sanjar Umarov, who is also an Uzbek business titan (file photo) (RFE/RL) 30 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The trial of an Uzbek opposition leader and businessman began in the capital Tashkent today before being adjourned to allow defense lawyers time to prepare their case.

The case marks one of several criminal trials of political opponents of the administration of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Authorities have dismissed claims that the prosecutions represent attempts to silence the opposition.

Sanjar Umarov, chairman of the Sunshine Uzbekistan Coalition, is accused of embezzlement and money laundering -- charges his supporters say are politically motivated.

Umarov was detained in October, and his trial opened today before the court adjourned to 3 February on the basis of a request by defense counsel.

Political Nuisance?

Umarov's coalition had sharply criticized the Uzbek government crackdown in the eastern city of Andijon in May. Sunshine Uzbekistan demanded an independent probe into the Andijon events, echoing calls from the EU and United States.

But Svetlana Ortiqova, a spokeswoman for the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office, today rejected the suggestion that there are links between Umarov's political views and his prosecution.

"Sanjar Umarov and his criminal group committed economic crime that has nothing to do with politics. Thus they are going on trial," Ortiqova told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service today. "I believe they must be held responsible for their economic damage to society, to the state as well as to some private [companies]. I stress once again that the criminal activities of Sanjar Umarov and his criminal groups have nothing to do with politics. They are purely economic crimes."

There have been fears for Umarov's physical condition. His lawyer, Vitaly Krasilovsky, has expressed concern over his declining physical and mental health.

Trying Times

A Sunshine Uzbekistan Coalition colleague, Nodira Khidoyatova, is awaiting a verdict in her trial, also on charges of financial crime. A verdict had been expected today in Khidoyatova's trial, but there has been no word so far in that case.

Thirty-eight-year-old Khidoyatova has been a coordinator for the coalition since it was formed in April, one month before the uprising and bloody confrontation in Andijon.

The trial of Mutabar Tojiboeva, a well-known rights activist, started today in a courtroom outside the capital.

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