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EU's Ashton Visiting Georgia, Central Asia

Catherine Ashton, EU high representative for foreign policy and security
European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton is beginning a trip to Georgia and Central Asia.

She's scheduled to hold meetings in Georgia on November 26, before visiting Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan.

Ashton told RFE/RL that in Tbilisi she planned to urge all Georgian parties to seek common ground following the country's October parliamentary elections.

"I will say to President [Mikheil] Saakashvili that he has his legacy already in Georgia in a sense, that it is important that he continue to work closely with the new government, important that he continue to push forward for Georgia on the things he believes in," she said, "especially, of course, the relationship with the European Union, which is, I think, of great significance for Georgia and of great importance to us."

(Read The Full Interview With Ashton)

In Central Asia, she said she planned to voice support for "civil society [and] the movement forward for these countries economically."

"Part of the reason for me to meet the ministers is to be able to try and work through with them what ways and in which areas [we can] be most successful in our collaboration," Ashton said.

"We are doing quite a lot of work on border issues, for example. I want to do more work on education. We want to try and support civil society [and] the movement forward for these countries economically. And we need to make sure that we've got in place the measures, the relationships, and the resources to be able to do that."

It will be Ashton's first major tour to Central Asia as EU high representative for foreign policy and security.

Human Rights 'Really Important'

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Ashton to meet with Central Asian human rights defenders and to publicly call for the release of wrongfully imprisoned activists.

"Promoting human rights is really important not just from a moral perspective but it is also very important for long-term interests [and] stability," HRW's Steve Swerdlow told RFE/RL.

"There is really no way you can have good trade relationships with these governments if they are abusing human rights."

In June, EU foreign ministers adopted a new Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy, which makes human rights, democracy, and the rule of law core elements in the EU’s foreign relations.

The EU has pledged to support advocates of liberty, democracy, and human rights throughout the world.
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