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Central Asia Report: June 8, 2005

8 June 2005, Volume 5, Number 21

WEEK AT A GLANCE (31 May-5 June). Kazakhstan hosted a security-focused gathering of foreign ministers from the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO; China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan). The ministers approved the introduction of an agreement on mutual assistance in emergency situations for consideration at the summit SCO heads of state on 5-6 July. The summit is also slated to grant India, Iran, and Pakistan observer status in the SCO. Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Kazakhstan on 2 June to mark the 50th anniversary of the Baikonur cosmodrome. He and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced preparations to create a joint investment bank with $1.5 billion in start-up capital, with Russia contributing $1 billion and Kazakhstan $500 million. Former Information Minister Altynbek Sarsenbaev, currently co-chairman of the unregistered opposition party Naghyz Ak Zhol, went on trial on defamation charges; the Khabar agency is seeking nearly $400,000 in damages for Sarsenbaev's allegations that it engaged in monopolistic practices. In a thematically related case, the opposition newspaper "Soz" announced that it has paid off a $38,000 libel judgment, which it had lost to the National Security Committee, with the help of the Journalists in Distress Foundation.

The foreign ministers of Russia and China both denied that their countries are considering the possible opening of a new military base in Kyrgyzstan. Acting Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov warned that the arrest of high-ranking officials on corruption charges is imminent, announcing that an arrest warrant has already been issued for Adil Toigonbaev, son-in-law of former President Askar Akaev. A crowd of 200 people retook the Supreme Court, which had been occupied since late April by the supporters of four losing candidates in recent parliamentary elections. Police later announced that the building was once again under government control. And acting Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva said that a camp housing nearly 500 Uzbek asylum seekers had been moved deeper into Kyrgyz territory. Otunbaeva met with her Uzbek counterpart, Elyor Ganiev, on 4 June to discuss the issue of the asylum seekers, who fled to Kyrgyzstan after violence in neighboring Uzbekistan on 13 May.

Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Project Journalists called for the release of Tajik journalist Jumaboy Tolibov, who was detained for 40 days on 24 April. The organizations noted that Tolibov's arrest was apparently ordered by a Sughd Oblast prosecutor, whom Tolibov had criticized in a series of articles in 2004. Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Ramazan Abdulatipov, who served as deputy prime minister in the government of Viktor Chernomyrdin in 1997-99, to be Russia's next ambassador to Tajikistan. And Tajikistan's government approved an agreement with Russian Aluminum that will see the company invest up to $1.5 billion over the next 10 years to complete construction of the Roghun hydroelectric plant, build a new aluminum production facility, and expand the existing Tajik Aluminum Plant.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov removed Shekersoltan Mukhammedova as head of the National Bank for "abuse of office." A Turkmen opposition website reported that she has been arrested in connection with a financial scandal and linked her legal woes to the recent dismissal of Deputy Prime Minister Yolly Gurbanmuradov. Prosecutor-General Gurbanbibi Atajanova subsequently announced that Gurbanmuradov has been charged with embezzling $68 million. A report by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine charged that Turkmenistan's health-care system is in steep decline and called on the international community to "pressure the Turkmen government to properly fund a basic health-care system and end the human rights violations that have exacerbated public-health problems."

Uzbek Foreign Minister Elyor Ganiev announced that Uzbekistan will not allow an independent inquiry into allegations that the government used excessive force to quell protests in Andijon on 13 May. Instead, he offered to set up a working group with diplomats from the United States, France, Russia, China, and neighboring states to monitor the Uzbek government's own investigation. Meanwhile, the United States and Israel authorized the departure of nonessential personnel from their respective embassies in Uzbekistan in connection with the threat of terror attacks.


By Daniel Kimmage

On 2 June, several thousand residents of Jizzakh, a city located some 200 kilometers to the southwest of Tashkent, gathered to show their unwavering support for the policies of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Organized by two pro-presidential political parties, the event took place under the slogan "The Uzbek people will never be dependent on anyone," RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported.

The slogan belongs to none other than the president himself. In fact, official news agency UzA reported on 31 May that a book by that very title has just appeared in Uzbek and Russian. It brings together excerpts from President Karimov's press conferences on 14 and 17 May, as well as extended remarks he made to journalists on 25 May, all on the violent events in Andijon on and after 13 May. The book presents the fullest official version of those events, ascribing them to the malfeasance of religious extremists.

The demonstration went beyond a mere expression of support for the president, however. As reported on 3 June, other slogans included "Down with the traitors!" and "Rights defenders out of Uzbekistan!" Jizzakh Governor Ubaydulla Yamanqulov (spelled "Yamankulov" in some reports) was even more direct in his remarks to the crowd, telling them that Uzbekistan's enemies want to incite a civil war. "Although they are far away from us across the ocean, their local hirelings are ready to sell out Uzbekistan for dollars," he said. Worse yet, Yamanqulov warned, "These lackeys of America are present in Jizzakh as well."

Bakhtiyor Hamroev, a Jizzakh-based human rights activist, told RFE/RL that the demonstration's organizers had originally intended to teach the "lackeys" and "hirelings" a harsher lesson, bringing them before the crowd for a public humiliation. But they decided against this at the last minute, contenting themselves instead with slogans damning rights defenders as U.S.-funded "devils." As the slogans put it, "May the devils be gone from our midst!"

Though diametrically opposed assessments of events in Andijon have highlighted a widening rift between Uzbekistan and the West in recent weeks, the process had been under way before gunshots rang out in the Ferghana Valley in early May. In fact, in remarks delivered in February 2004, Jizzakh Governor Yamanqulov telegraphed the tone of the address he would make in June. Speaking at the opening of a new press center in Jizzakh on 11 February, Yamanqulov blasted the United States, associating it with "corruption, lawlessness, and impositions [of its will on others]," reported on 21 February. Yamanqulov also ridiculed U.S. efforts to democratize Iraq, saying: "Look at what they're doing in Iraq. There are no principles of democracy there; it's the politics of the international gendarmerie."

In an article on EurasiaNet on 3 March, Esmer Islamov noted that "Yamankulov's verbal volley was apparently meant to send the United States a warning to ease up in its criticism of Tashkent's human rights practices." Islamov noted other instances -- such as the Uzbek authorities' decision to cancel a visit by British Foreign Office official Bill Rammell to Uzbekistan in early March after Rammell said he would focus on human rights issues -- to buttress the following thesis: "Shaken by revolutionary developments in Ukraine and Georgia, Uzbekistan is turning away from the West. Officials in Tashkent increasingly see the democratic ideals espoused by the United States and the European Union as 'alien' and destructive for Uzbek society."

The movement away from the West has gained momentum in the wake of events in Andijon. Most recently, the Uzbek government denied entry to Michael Matthiessen, special envoy of European Union foreign-policy head Javier Solana, Reuters reported on 3 June. Solana expressed his "regret" in a letter to Uzbek President Karimov, noting that the exchange of envoys is the "very foundation of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement [between the EU and Uzbekistan]." Earlier, three U.S. senators who visited Tashkent on 29 May found that no Uzbek officials were willing to meet with them.

The post-Andijon chill in Uzbekistan's relations with the West has begun to affect negotiations over a possible long-term U.S. base in the country, "The Washington Post" reported on 4 June. The United States, which has maintained a deployment at the Karshi-Khanabad airfield in Uzbekistan since 2001, has been in talks to gain "long-term use of a major military base in Uzbekistan to expand the global reach of American forces." But the crackdown in Andijon and reports that hundreds died when troops opened fire on unarmed demonstrators has prompted a high-level policy review, high-ranking officials at the State Department and Pentagon told the newspaper. At the same time, congressional opinion on the alliance with Uzbekistan shows signs of souring. John Sununu, one of the three senators who recently traveled to Uzbekistan, told "The Washington Post" that he believes, based on eyewitness accounts gathered by the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan, that 500-1,000 people were killed by Uzbek special forces and security forces in Andijon. Addressing the base issue, Sununu said, "I would not be comfortable making a long-term commitment."

The immediate bone of contention in Uzbekistan's relations with the West is the request, voiced by many Western governments and organizations, for an independent inquiry into allegations that the Uzbek government used excessive force against demonstrators in Andijon, killing hundreds. Karimov slammed the door shut on such an inquiry, telling journalists on 25 May, "Our view, my view, and our government's view is that we think that the idea of setting up an international commission on investigating the Andijon events is groundless, and we will never agree to this."

Foreign Minister Elyor Ganiev set the door ajar on 2 June, saying that diplomats from the United States, France, Russia, China, and neighboring states could join a working group to monitor the Uzbek government's own investigation. But Uzbekistan's president has already set down the official version of events in Andijon in a book, both Russia and China have endorsed that version in earlier statements, and bordering states have been reluctant to criticize their powerful neighbor. Consequently, the format suggested by Ganiev would seem to offer Western diplomats little more than an opportunity to comment on an official investigation that will, in all likelihood, confirm what President Karimov has already established as the official truth.

Moreover, even as Foreign Minister Ganiev was inviting French diplomats to monitor the official investigation, the government-controlled press was heaping scorn on the European Union. A 2 June article in "Pravda Vostoka" tellingly titled "Eurotears of compassion for terrorists" lambasted the EU for everything from supporting gay marriage to encouraging drug abuse. The article dismissed European calls for an independent investigation into the Andijon events as "a fiction meant to prove EU governments' aspiration and commitment to democratic principles and rights and freedoms of people throughout the world," and suggested that the EU's ulterior motive was simply "to obtain more favorable conditions for issuing credits to Uzbekistan."

Like other Central Asian leaders, Islam Karimov has engaged in his share of multipolar maneuvering. Most recently, he drew closer to the United States during U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan in 2001, and then swung toward a rapprochement with Russia in 2004 amid mounting Western criticism of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. Throughout, the government-controlled press has published occasional broadsides against "foreign" influences and values.

But Andijon was different. The horrific reports of bloodshed in Andijon briefly catapulted Karimov to the forefront of Western public attention, and democratically elected governments will have to factor those reports -- and the effect they have had on perceptions of Karimov -- into their future ties with Uzbekistan. Western reactions have stung Karimov as well. As a senior State Department official told "The Washington Post," "Uzbekistan is retreating into a hard shell." All indicators point toward a deepening chill. It is one of the bitter ironies of international relations that this isolating chill comes at a time when so many voices -- from the editorial pages of U.S. and European newspapers to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- are calling for greater openness in Uzbekistan as the only way to prevent more bloodshed and suffering. (Originally published on 6 June)


By Gulnoza Saidazimova

Uzbek human rights activists and independent journalists continue to be harassed and arrested following last month's events in Andijon, where soldiers reportedly fired on and killed hundreds of civilians. Among the latest detainees is Tulqin Qoraev, a correspondent for the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Scores of human rights activists have been detained or gone missing and many others find themselves closely tracked by the security services.

Tulqin Qoraev, who works for the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and has contributed to Radio Iran's Uzbek programs, was among the latest to be detained. Qoraev, who freelanced in the past for RFE/RL, was arrested on 4 June in his hometown Qarshi in southern Uzbekistan.

Relatives told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that officers brought Qoraev before a judge, who charged him with hooliganism. "He was detained by the Interior Ministry officers and charged at the city court," Qoraev's brother said. "They used a woman for this slander, for this provocation. He is charged with hooliganism under Article 183 [of the Uzbek Criminal Code]. I don't know about other charges."

The independent Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU) reported that a woman at a bus stop attacked Qoraev and a friend of his and later filed a suit against the reporter. The HRSU also says its members are being harassed. Norboy Kholjigitov, the HRSU's Samarkand-based activist, was also detained on 4 June. Kholjigitov's son, Hayotilla, told RFE/RL about his father's arrest.

"On 4 June, at around 11-12 p.m., Uktam Kholnazarov, a community leader, came to our house. He and my father, Norboy Kholjigitov, left for a nearby village," Hayotilla said. "My father was in a local teahouse where he was handcuffed and detained by the SNB [National Security Service] officers. I was told those people were from the SNB. Abdusattor Erzaev, a teacher from the local school, was also detained that night."

Relatives said they had no information about Kholjigitov's whereabouts. Abdijalil Boymatov of the HRSU says he believes the arrest is part of a government campaign to silence critics.

"He [Kholjigitov] is a farmer himself, he's defended farmers' rights, he participated in many protests, went to Tashkent to organize demonstrations," Boymatov said. "He has confronted the government on many occasions."

Other rights groups as well as opposition parties have also become the subject of harassment and persecution.

Last week, an Andijon-based member of Ezgulik group, Muzzaffarmirzo Iskhakov, and two members of the unregistered opposition party Birlik, Akbar Oripov and Nurmuhammad Azizov, were detained and had their apartments searched and computers and documentation confiscated.

Similar cases have been reported in the central city of Jizzakh. Bakhtiyor Hamraev, a human rights activist, says the whereabouts of several of his colleagues are unknown. "In Jizzakh, human rights activists have started to disappear," Hamraev said. "For example, Rajab Nazarov disappeared. We don't know where he is. I think the government is using the ultimate means of getting rid of human rights activists -- it is physically eliminating them."

So far there is no evidence that any of those who have gone missing have suffered serious harm.

Many other rights activists say they are being constantly watched and followed by security service officers. "The situation is the same today, too," said Tashkent-based rights activist Surat Ikramov. "They asked me not to leave my house. They told me, 'If you have to leave the house and go somewhere, we will follow you.'"

The HRSU's Boymatov says he, too, was not allowed to leave his home. "I was unable to leave my house for almost 15 days," Boymatov said. "From 22 May to 3 June, there were five or six [policemen] from the Interior Ministry's Khamza district department near my house. They didn't let me go out."

Estimates by rights groups of the number of people detained since the Andijon events have ranged from scores to as many as 100. They say that not only journalists and rights campaigners but also politically active citizens who protested against the government policy have been subjected to harassment. Abduvohid Tohtahojaev from Tashkent is one of them.

"Three policemen came to my house at 4:30 in the morning," Tohtahojaev said. "They rang the bell, banged on the door, and woke up all my neighbors. They wanted to force me to go with them. My neighbors came out. My wife has high blood pressure. She had a stroke that morning. I refused to go with the policemen. They detained my brother, my son and my nephew. They told me to stay at home. I asked why. They said they had an order." Tohtahojaev says he believes his participation in several demonstrations is the reason behind the policemen's visit and the detention of some of his relatives. Tohtahojaev and other protesters have repeatedly demanded that an independent investigation of the Andijon events be conducted, along with the release of human rights campaigners.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has rejected such calls, which have also come from the United Nations, European Union, and United States.

(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report. Originally published on 6 June)


By Bruce Pannier

It wasn't long after ousted Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev fled to Russia in late March that lawmakers began investigating his finances. Specifically, parliamentarians wanted to know if Akaev had any business interests, and if so, how he had gotten the money to fund them. Kyrgyzstan's acting prosecutor-general is due to travel to Moscow soon to question the former president about his financial holdings. But the ousted leader looks set to launch a legal battle of his own. His attorney traveled in late May to Bishkek, where he hinted that Akaev may be filing lawsuits, targeting members of Kyrgyzstan's new interim government.

Kyrgyz authorities have armed themselves with a list of suspects and a Western lawyer. Acting Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov gave the details this week.

"In Vienna I signed an agreement with a lawyer, Mr. Lieberman," Beknazarov said. "He will conduct all the affairs of the Kyrgyz government outside Kyrgyzstan. We gave him a list of more than 100 people and asked him to find any money [they might have] outside the country. President Akaev and his family were on this list."

So far, the parliamentary commission investigating Akaev's finances has identified some 180 businesses and enterprises with suspected links to the ousted president.

The head of the commission, acting Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov, described Akaev to lawmakers as a "mafia boss" and a "thief," and said many of his relatives appeared likewise involved in shady dealings.

"What is 'Aian Hotels?' Its owner is 'State Development.' The owner of State Development is Kashkaraev, the cousin of [former First Lady] Mairam Duishenovna," Usenov said. "Then there is 'Aides Group LTD,' owned by Junusova. Junusova is Kashkarev's wife."

Usenov accused Akaev of establishing a number of presidential funds and funneling millions of dollars through them.

The same day that Usenov was addressing parliament, Akaev's Russian legal team, led by Maksim Maksimovich, was in Bishkek. Maksimovich gave a press conference and said Akaev might file a suit against Usenov for his slanderous claims. "He [Usenov] said he fully supports the view that Askar Akaev is officially 'a thief by law and a bribe-taker,'" Maksimovich said.

Maksimovich accused Usenov of having no proof to back up his allegations. Usenov, he warned, "must either prove his words in court or apologize." He added the deal Akaev made in early April to voluntarily resign as president guaranteed Akaev would not face criminal or administrative charges, or be arrested, detained, or questioned.

The Russian attorney also said that because interim authorities appear to have violated the agreement, Akaev could still technically be considered the president of Kyrgyzstan.

Maksimovich also demanded that all of Akaev's property be returned to the former president. Akaev's archives, books, and medical documents were returned that day. Akaev has also reportedly retained the services of two U.S.-based law firms, in an indication he intends to battle the new Kyrgyz authorities in court.

(Janyl Chytyrbaeva and Venera Djumataeva of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report. Originally published on 3 June)


By Andrew Tully

On the surface, relations between Uzbekistan and the United States appear only slightly strained since the bloodshed in Andijon on 13 May. But there is growing opposition to the rule of Uzbek President Islam Karimov among conservatives in Washington -- conservatives who share the foreign policy goals of U.S. President George W. Bush. They say it is time for the Bush administration to take a tougher stand on Karimov, even though Karimov allows the United States to maintain a military base in Uzbekistan to support operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

One is Ariel Cohen, an analyst with the Heritage Foundation, a private policy center in Washington. Cohen wrote recently in "The Washington Times" that Karimov's authoritarian rule only emboldens radical opponents who would turn Uzbekistan into what he calls a "militarized Muslim state: a caliphate."

Another is William Kristol, the editor of "The Weekly Standard," a policy magazine that often reflects the thinking of the Bush administration. In the publication, Kristol -- with Stephen Schwartz -- recently wrote an article urging Bush to reassess U.S. ties with Karimov's government.

In their conclusion, Kristol and Schwartz write that the administration must be prepared to consider what they call the "consequences for U.S. aid and support for the regime." But in an interview with RFE/RL, Schwartz insisted that this does not mean breaking relations.

Instead, Schwartz said, it's time for the Bush administration to tell Karimov that he's now regarded as being no different from leaders in other former communist countries who have been rejected by their people -- including former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, and former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.

"If he [Karimov] doesn't want to understand this, we're going to have to make him understand this," Schwartz said. "I frankly think that with the war in Afghanistan essentially over, there's no reason to maintain any base in Uzbekistan and they [the United States] should remove the base. I think they [the United States] should cut off any military or police training to Uzbek troops since we now have to face the scandalous fact that the troops in the Andijon incident apparently were trained in the United States."

Further, Schwartz said, the Bush administration should begin shifting its attention to Uzbekistan's much larger neighbor, Kazakhstan, as an ally in Central Asia. He called President Nursultan Nazarbaev "a dictator." But he added that Kazakhstan also has a free press and a thriving civil society.

Schwartz said the overall U.S. policy decisions -- on Uzbekistan, at least -- are made not in the State Department, but in the Pentagon. And he said he understands Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is unhappy with the situation in Uzbekistan.

Rumsfeld's dismay, Schwartz said, comes not only from the violence in Andijon, but goes back to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in December. He said Andijon merely confirmed the administration's concerns about the quality of Karimov's rule and brought the problems in Uzbekistan to the attention of the wider public.

Schwartz said that since the change in Ukraine, the Bush administration has become adamant that it can no longer regard all postcommunist governments as representative of their peoples. "The bottom line [the point] here is that the Bush administration, after Ukraine, is clearly not going to take the position that Uzbekistan is somehow different from Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus -- and Russia itself," Schwartz said.

But Marina Ottaway of the Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, another Washington think tank, said there is little evidence that the Bush administration is prepared to withdraw U.S. troops from Uzbekistan.

After all, Ottaway told RFE/RL, the United States needs that base more than Uzbekistan needs to provide it. And its location is based on geographical -- not ideological -- concerns. "We [the United States] put that base there because we thought we needed it. We did not put that base there because he [Karimov] was a nice guy," Ottaway said. "The lack of democracy in [Uzbekistan] is not going to change the Pentagon's calculus on whether or not that base is needed. It seems to me extremely unlikely that the U.S. government would implement a policy of that sort as long as it sees a military reason to have a base in Uzbekistan."

Besides, Ottaway said, Uzbekistan is part of a longstanding Rumsfeld strategy that so far has overridden the more diplomatic approaches of the State Department.

"The Pentagon certainly has a different set of concerns than the people [elsewhere in the Bush administration] who are talking about promoting new revolutions in these countries," Ottaway said. "From the beginning, Rumsfeld has been talking about moving American bases further east -- closing some of the bases in Europe and moving further east. So certainly Uzbekistan is part of that strategy."

Ottaway said there is more evidence that Bush will maintain the status quo. She noted that in 2004, the State Department suspended $18 million in aid to Uzbekistan because of Tashkent's poor human rights record. But soon the Pentagon restored that money -- and even added $3 million to the total -- citing Karimov's cooperation with the U.S. military. (Originally published on 3 June)


By Gulnoza Saidazimova

A new name has emerged on the political scene of Uzbekistan: Sanjar Umarov. Considered an "oligarch," Umarov is involved in cotton and telecommunications and has been relatively unknown -- until now. A recent wave of Internet articles suggests that Umarov, also a member of the opposition group Sunshine Uzbekistan, is likely one day to succeed Uzbek President Islam Karimov. In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL, Umarov spoke about the political and economic platform of his coalition as well as his political ambitions, although he was noncommittal about trying to succeed Karimov as president.

"The next elections are scheduled for 2007, right?" Umarov said. "If we are able to win people's trust, then we'll see. But right now, it would be wrong for me to say I will become the next president."

A 48-year-old physicist, Umarov is the son of a well-known academician -- physicist Giyas Umarov, and has a doctorate in physics.

Shortly after Uzbek independence in 1991, Umarov got involved in the cotton and oil business.

He is married with five children. Most of them have grown up in the United States where Umarov moved his family some years ago as his business expanded and part of it was transferred abroad.

Little known, he has kept a low profile and stayed far from politics -- until recently.

But now, Umarov's political position is quite clear. He has called on President Karimov to dissolve the government. "There is one solution. If the government changes, I mean, if the president appoints new ministers and gives wide authorities to the cabinet of ministers, then good results could be achieved in a short term," Umarov said. "What I mean is that a lot of new and progressive people should be brought to the cabinet of ministers. Many of [the current ministers] must be replaced."

Umarov said the need to replace the Uzbek government has grown after recent unrest in the eastern city of Andijon in which as many as hundreds of civilians were reportedly killed.

Asked whether Karimov should resign, Umarov said he prefers not to answer. However, he said he doesn't believe the current Uzbek leadership can bring any positive changes to the country. "The government had enough time for reforms, but did not do anything," he said.

Over the last 15 years, Uzbek media have been full of rumors and names as to who might some day succeed Karimov.

But in Uzbekistan, it is commonly believed that anyone who dares to try to claim the presidency risks his life -- let alone his business. The only exception, it is thought, may be when Karimov himself puts forward his own successor.

That helps explain why some people believe Umarov might be a Trojan horse, an apparent opposition leader who in reality is sponsored by Karimov.

Shahida Tulaganova, an Uzbek opposition activist living abroad, told RFE/RL that Umarov's successful business in oil and cotton -- sectors tightly controlled by the government -- makes her believe that he is not a real opposition figure.

"No one knows who Sanjar Umarov is, he appeared out of the blue," Tulaganova said. "Maybe he is known among the Tashkent business elite, but I asked many ordinary people in Tashkent. No one knew him. I read in that he is an oil tycoon. I have some friends among those involved in oil business, I asked them, no one knew anything about him."

Umarov was a founder of Uzdunrobita, a U.S.-Uzbek joint telecommunications venture. It reportedly was controlled by Karimov's oldest daughter, Gulnara, until she sold it in 2004 to a Russian company.

Umarov himself denied any connections with Karimov.

RFE/RL spoke to two Tashkent-based entrepreneurs with no contacts to Umarov. Both speculated that there is unlikely to be a connection between Karimov and Umarov. They said Umarov joined the opposition because his business was directly threatened by Gulnara Karimova and other cronies of the president who have been increasing their control over various sectors of the Uzbek economy.

Nadira Hidoyatova, a colleague of Umarov's in the Sunshine Coalition, said Umarov has already become a subject of persecution and scrutiny. "First of all, he conducts business on the international scene. He owns companies in America, he works on a different level," Hidoyatova said. "On the other hand, his children work for companies [in Uzbekistan]. They try to follow laws, but everyone, including his children, who conduct business, face enormous difficulties. When [Umarov] declared his intention to implement economic reforms [if he is elected], the SNB [National Security Service] sent inspectors to companies of his son and his brother. They had a warrant to conduct a 30-day inspection."

Umarov himself said he intends to fight the authorities and said he has support from abroad. His claims could not be independently verified. "There are a lot of foreign organizations that believe in us and trust us," he said. "The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and European banks have already thrown their support behind us."

His economic program includes privatization of land and de-monopolization of the economy, mostly of the cotton sector. The plans are likely to attract entrepreneurs facing harassment and persecution as well as farmers who make up the biggest part of the Uzbek population.

The hardest thing for Umarov might be winning the hearts of other opposition members. Many have repeatedly criticized the Sunshine Coalition as not truly representing the Uzbek opposition.

It also remains to be seen whether Umarov can get support from ordinary people. There is a common mistrust of oligarchs in Uzbekistan. However, general discontent has grown stronger after the Andijon unrest. Some say anyone is better than Karimov.

Moreover, Umarov is known as secular with no connections to Islamic groups. This may be appealing for those Uzbeks who would like their country to remain secular.

(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report. Originally published on 2 June)