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Uzbekistan: President Blames Two For Bombings

Prague, 19 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov has made statements accusing various parties of responsibility since a series of bombs exploded in the capital, Tashkent, one month ago. But this week, Karimov sought to place the primary blame on just two people:

"There are two organizers of this terror act and sabotage. Takhir Yuldash -- this person is known to you. He is that criminal who fled some time ago from Namangan. He fought in Afghanistan and participated in the military actions in Tajikistan.... The second individual is Mohammed Solih, whom we consider as the second organizer, or more exactly speaking, a collaborator in this terror act and sabotage."

Karimov made the comment in Tashkent at a joint news conference with visiting Turkish President Suleyman Demirel.

Karimov argued that Yuldash is a friend of Islamic extremists and visits them in places such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Chechnya. Solih -- the exiled chairman of the banned Uzbek political party "Erk" (Liberty) -- ran against Karimov in Uzbekistan's only presidential elections in 1991. According to Karimov, Solih has contacted Islamic extremists like Yuldash, who allegedly are helping him to further his political ambitions.

On February 16, a series of bombs killed 15 people and left some 150 injured. The locations of the bombs and the timing of their detonation led many to conclude the act of terrorism was an attempt on the life of Karimov, who was just about to arrive at the government building in downtown Tashkent. An hour after the explosions, Karimov publicly blamed religious extremists for the attack.

In the month since, there have been many arrests, both inside and outside Uzbekistan. Outside the country, arrests have been made by authorities in Russia, including its breakaway republic of Chechnya, in Turkey, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Some reports have suggested that the number of those arrested runs into the hundreds.

The Moscow-based Society for the Assistance of Human Rights said 10 days after the terrorist act that possibly over 500 people had been arrested in connection with the blasts. The organization's head, Vitaly Ponomarev, said at least 200 had been arrested in Tashkent alone.

It is unclear how many of those detained are connected with either of the men Karimov accused of involvement this week.

Speaking at the news conference, Karimov called on Solih to turn himself in:

"If he has a conscience as a human being, he must come and admit his crimes. He must answer before the court. I personally think that if he has even a small bit of human conscience in him, he must come and answer before the people. If this doesn't work, we will try to find another way."

At the beginning of March, articles in state-run newspapers and stories on national television anticipated Karimov's remarks, calling Solih a "traitor to the Motherland" and implying that he and two of his brothers had a hand in the bombings. Solih responded in an interview with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service earlier this month (March 5).

"The Uzbek government knows that neither the Erk Party ... nor I or my brothers ... were involved with these blasts.... The reason these articles were printed was not to defend the people who were injured in these blasts and the reason is not to find the organizers of these blasts but to put the regime in a most comfortable position ahead of parliamentary elections [due later this year] and to make passive its opponents and to isolate them from the election process."

Karimov said this week that he has evidence to prove the guilt of both Yuldash and Solih. He said he has asked Interpol to apprehend them and turn them over for trial. But Karimov continued to suggest that others are involved, including an unnamed "foreign government."

However, the Uzbek president provided no details.