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NATO Chief Criticizes Uzbekistan For Missing Meetings

NATO head Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (file photo) (epa) November 29, 2006 -- NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer today criticized Uzbekistan for snubbing meetings of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC).

Addressing a news briefing at the end of a NATO summit in Riga, de Hoop Scheffer had harsh words for the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

"If you ask me about Uzbekistan, I have to regret the fact that in the meetings of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the EAPC in Brussels -- and that is also a central element in our partnership [that] we want to strengthen -- Uzbekistan unfortunately still has the policy of the empty chair," he said. "What can I do about it? I would like to see them there tomorrow -- because you might have disagreement, and we have disagreements with Uzbekistan after the Andijon incidents -- but it is difficult to talk to an empty chair."

Relations between Karimov and Western governments soured after last year's military crackdown in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon.

Also last year, Uzbekistan asked the United States to vacate the military base it had set up on its territory for military operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

EAPC was set up in 1997 with the aim of building a broad and enhanced regional security forum.

It brings together NATO's 26 member countries and 20 partner states. Among those are the 12 former Soviet republics that makes up today's Commonwealth of Independent States.

(Reuters TV)

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