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Russian, Uzbek Leaders Discuss Partnership


Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin has held talks with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent and told him that his country was a top-priority partner for Russia in the region.

Putin was in Uzbekistan at the start of his first tour of Asian countries since taking office for his third term as Russian president almost a month ago.

Putin and Karimov signed a memorandum of understanding on Uzbekistan's accession to a free-trade zone of former Soviet republics that also includes Russia, and a joint declaration on their countries' strategic partnership.

The memorandum says negotiations to formalize Uzbekistan's accession to the free-trade zone are to be completed by the end of 2012.

From Tashkent, Putin is to travel to China.

Ahead of Putin's visit, Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom has been holding talks about multibillion-dollar deals on Russian energy supplies to China.

In Beijing, Putin is also expected to meet with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

He is then due to visit Kazakhstan on June 7.

Based on reporting by Interfax and ITAR-TASS