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Uzbekistan: Clinton Praises Religious And Ethnic Tolerance

Samarkand, Uzbekistan; 14 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton today visited the ancient "Silk Road" city of Samarkand.

At a reception in Clinton's honor at Samarkand's Asrosyov Hotel, Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov thanked the U.S. First Lady for visiting Uzbekistan. Karimov said this visit is not symbolic, but, rather, concrete evidence that the two countries want to establish close ties and a strategic partnership.

"Uzbekistan is open to the U.S. and ready for close cooperation -- as close as is acceptable to the U.S.," said Karimov.

Karimov highly praised Hillary Clinton's efforts to protect women's and children's health and to advance women's role in society. He said protection of maternity and childhood is a goal of Uzbekistan's government. President Karimov said Samarkand is a unique city, where about 100 ethnic groups live side-by-side in peace. And, Karimov said peace and justice is another goal of Uzbekistan's government.

Karimov stressed that the visit of the First Lady is an honor for Uzbekistan and a historic event. He said at today's meeting that his country has chosen the parth of democracy and freedom. He said he hopes President Clinton will accompany the First Lady the next time she is in Uzbekistan.

In her speech, Hillary Clinton thanked the people of Uzbekistan for their warm welcome and hospitality. She said she never met young people who were better prepared for discussion. She said that during her visit, she saw both the old and new Uzbekistan. Clinton said that she visited Tashkent, Bukhara and Samarkand all places of religious worship. She said a Rabbi in Bukhara told her that the government of Uzbekistan has restored religious freedom and encouraged religious and cultural tolerance. Clinton said that in Uzbekistan today, people can worship openly and freely. She said nationalities in Samarkand represent different traditions and live peacefully in this cultural and religious heart of Central Asia.

Clinton said her visit aims to reinforce the young-but-growing ties between the U.S. and Uzbekistan, and to witness the important progress Uzbekistan is making in building democracy and a civic society.

In her speech in Samarkand, Clinton spoke about the rich culture and traditions of Uzbekistan. She said she came to learn about the deeply-rooted tradition of respect for religious and ethnic differences, which enabled this culture to flourish for so many generations. She said she is impressed how -- in Uzbekistan -- Muslims, Christians and Jews follow their faith in the same neighborhood. She said the spirit of respect extends to all corners of Uzbekistan's society.

Clinton again underlined the importance of education in building democracy and said the fight for democracy is a never-ending act.

She stressed that in recent years, the bond between the two countries has grown stronger. She said the U.S. is a friend and partner of Uzbekistan in its pursuit of democracy.

U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, Brian Pyijley, who is working in Uzbekistan, told our correspondent that Clinton's visit is extremely important, because it shows U.S. support of the Peace Corps on the very highest level.

The Governor of Bukhara, Aziz Nosirov, told our correspondent that Samarkand's people were honored to host the First Lady. He said Clinton had the opportunity to see the history and traditions of Uzbekistan.