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Uzbekistan: TV Opts To Broadcast Hollywood Movies

By Zamira Echanova

As the U.S. and Britain began air strikes yesterday against suspected terrorist targets in Afghanistan, much of the world turned on their television sets to find out the latest news -- everywhere that is except in Uzbekistan where the events for the most part were blacked out. RFE/RL Uzbek correspondent Zamira Echanova was in Tashkent when the strikes began. She reports that citizens had to tune into Russian television if they wanted to find out what was happening.

Tashkent, 8 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Many people in Uzbekistan awoke this morning having heard little or no news about yesterday's U.S.-led air strikes against suspected terrorist targets in neighboring Afghanistan.

While television and radio broadcasters around the world cut into regularly scheduled programming to report on the strikes, Uzbek television opted to show Hollywood movies, including the feature "City of Angels" with Meg Ryan.

News on the most popular station, "Yoshlar," chose to report on President Islam Karimov's official visit to Austria, which was to start today. The presidential press office tells RFE/RL that visit has now been cancelled.

Uzbek citizens wanting to follow the events on television had to rely on Russian television channels NTV or TV6.

Oleg, a Russian driver in Tashkent, was among them:

"All this terrible news I've learned from Russian public channel NTV, and I'm very concerned about what will happen here. Of course, most of all I'm worried about my family. As for the rest, we can strike them back."

Mahmud, another Tashkent resident, learned about the strikes only this morning when Uzbek state television began rebroadcasting Russian news in Russian. He says he and his family found the news shocking.

"When I turned on my TV today in the morning, I've heard that [the] U.S. has bombed Afghanistan. Of course, when your neighbor is not in peace, we are also worried very much."

According to state TV today, the Uzbek army as well as all branches of the Interior Ministry and Security Service are now on the highest state of alert.

Eyewitnesses in the southern city of Termez, which borders Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, say that during the night and early this morning they saw tanks and armored troop carriers and could hear the noise of shooting from the border area.

A local journalist describes the scene:

"People can watch the other side of the river from their roofs. They saw people moving toward the Uzbek border, toward the small islands [in the river that demarcates the border]. But no further movements were noticed."

He says people who live near the border say they can see tanks and other heavy weapons on the Taliban side. There have been no reports of plane sightings yet.

The press office of the Uzbek Defense Ministry has declined to comment on the situation. Officials say the situation is quiet and that there is no immediate threat to Uzbek territory.

Life in Tashkent, the capital, appears to be going on as usual -- at least on the surface. But residents admit to feeling anxiety. After hearing earlier news that the Taliban had moved 10,000 troops to the border area, many Uzbeks now expect the worst: that the war against terrorism will eventually enter their country and their lives.