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Uzbekistan: Tashkent EBRD Meeting Going Ahead As Planned

The annual summit of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development board of governors will be held in the Uzbek capital Tashkent on 4-5 May. The meeting is expected to attract more than 2,000 people, including official delegations from member countries and international financial institutions and journalists. However, international criticism is mounting over the choice of Uzbekistan as the venue for this year's summit.

Prague, 30 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is preparing to hold its annual meeting in Tashkent on 4-5 May amid continuing criticism over its choice of the Uzbek capital as the venue.

The bank says it chose Tashkent because it wanted to hold the meeting in Central Asia, and the city has the necessary infrastructure to host a group of 2,000 people. Laurent Guye, executive director for EBRD affairs in Uzbekistan, explained to RFE/RL: "It is the policy of the bank to hold its annual meeting in the different regions of operations, and Central Asia has never been selected, and the reason why the choice has been Tashkent is basically because the Uzbek authorities have [put forward Tashkent] on several occasions and secondly because the city has the infrastructure which makes it possible to host something like between 1,000 and 2,000 guests."

But Western governments and international rights organizations say they are unhappy with the choice. They say holding a prestigious banking conference in Tashkent appears to reward the Uzbek government, even as Tashkent has failed to make visible progress toward greater democratization and respect for human rights.

The bank, for its part, says the meeting - which will bring together all of the banks members and shareholders -- should not be seen as a reward for Uzbekistan.

"Holding the meeting in a country should not be considered as a reward, but it is a meeting of the EBRD," Guye said. "It will be dedicated to the whole of the countries of operation of the EBRD with special focus on Central Asia, but it will not be a meeting on Uzbekistan exclusively."

The EBRD, however, is clearly sensitive to the criticism. The bank was established in the early 1990s to help the former communist countries make the transition to democracy and market-based economies, and enhancing the development of democratic institutions is part of its charter.

Last month, the bank issued a report expressing serious concern about the state of multi-party democracy, respect for the rule of law and human rights in Uzbekistan. The report called on the Tashkent meeting to be a forum for open debate through which the Uzbek authorities achieve a better understanding of the costs of their restrictive policies for their own people and Central Asia as a whole.

Jean Lemierre, the bank's president, said the EBRD is now looking to authorities in Tashkent to implement human rights recommendations made last year by the United Nations' special rapporteur on torture.

"The first point is to get an answer from Uzbekistan on the recommendations made by the UN report on torture. And once more I have reasonable expectations that we could get a positive answer. That's the first step. Of course then there is the delivery capacity, and the monitoring would be up to various institutions, and on top of them the UN," Lemierre said.

Reports say Uzbek President Islam Karimov will deliver a televised statement at the EBRD meeting publicly condemning torture and agreeing to implement all of the recommendations of the UN on human rights.

Lemierre argues the best way to encourage positive change in Uzbekistan and to place Tashkent under pressure either to reform or to face bad publicity is to go ahead with the May meeting.

He said the meeting will also emphasize the importance of fighting poverty. "What we would like to do in Tashkent is, in the context of the CIS seven poorest countries, to put stress on this, to say there is a real concern fighting against poverty, and to say that we would like to work more the other institutions -- we have very good cooperation with the Asian Development Bank, or the World Bank -- to do more. So the meeting in Tashkent would be a very important opportunity to have good discussions, and make decisions about these points," he said.