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Uzbekistan: Mufti Warns Against Terrorism

Washington, 1 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek religious leader Abdulrashid Kory Bakhromov says Muslim extremists trained by international terrorists are trying to undermine his country.

Bakhromov, the Mufti of Uzbekistan, told a news conference in Washington yesterday that Uzbek youths are getting modern weapons and training from Chechen and Afghan extremists.

He said the youths are also being trained on the territory of Pakistan, a charge that was promptly denied by a Pakistani Embassy official who attended the press conference.

In his first visit ever to the United States, Bakhromov said the rise of radicalism represents a threat to Central Asia.

Bakhromov said extremism and intolerance have no place in the Islamic religion. He said the Koran, which spells out the teachings of Islam, stands for peaceful coexistence between peoples of different faiths and ethnic background.

Also participating in the news conference was the Uzbek ambassador to Washington, Sodyq Safaev.

Commenting on next Sunday's parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan, Safaev said the balloting will be the freest ever in his country's history. He noted that the elections will be monitored by representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE.)

The OSCE has said Uzbekistan's electoral laws are making it impossible to hold a fair vote. And Uzbek opposition groups say they have been barred from participating in the vote and that all five parties vying for parliament are pro-government organizations.

Safaev said it would be wrong to characterize all five parties as pro-government.

Asked by our correspondent whether he believes the elections will be fair, Bakhromov said he has no doubts that there is a "political struggle" between the parties trying to get elected to the Uzbek parliament.