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Uzbekistan: Exiled Opposition Leader Detained In Prague

Prague, 30 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Czech authorities and Interpol have detained Uzbek opposition leader Mohammad Solih as he tried to enter the country. Solih was on a list of wanted persons supplied to Interpol by Uzbekistan's government. Navfar Kholmatov of Uzbekistan's Interpol bureau confirmed that Interpol agents in Prague detained a man resembling Solih at the airport yesterday. Kholmatov said if the man is indeed Solih, Uzbek authorities will ask for his extradition to Uzbekistan.

Meanwhile, a high-level delegation from Uzbekistan arrived in Washington for meetings with American officials yesterday. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the delegation includes the Uzbek ministers of defense, foreign affairs, and economic relations, and that the delegation is meeting on 29-30 November with senior officials from the State Department and other U.S. government agencies, as well as with officials from leading international financial institutions.

Boucher said that although U.S. relations with Uzbekistan have improved due to the Central Asian country's cooperation in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, Washington is still concerned about reported human rights abuses there.

The Uzbek government accuses Solih of involvement in the 1999 bombings in the capital Tashkent, said to be an attempt on the life of President Islam Karimov. In exile since 1993, Solih was sentenced in absentia last year to 15 1/2 years in jail by a Tashkent court in connection with the bomb attacks. He denies the charges.

Solih, who ran against Karimov for the presidency in 1991, is the chairman of the Erk (Freedom) opposition party and a poet. He has been granted political asylum in Norway, but was flying to Prague at the invitation of RFE/RL. A spokeswoman for RFE/RL, which has aired interviews with Solih in the past, said its journalists had spoken to his family in Norway and they had confirmed his detention.

The station had invited Salih to Prague about a week ago, she said, but had not been aware he was flying in on 28 November.