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UN Human Rights Chief On First Visit To Uzbekistan

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein is in Uzbekistan on the first visit by the United Nations' human rights chief to the tightly controlled Central Asian country since it gained independence in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Zeid met with officials including President Shavkat Mirziyaev, who took office after the government announced the death of longtime President Islam Karimov in September.

At talks with Zeid on May 10, Mirziyaev said Uzbekistan is interested in the development of constructive and open dialogue between Tashkent and the UN institutions, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry said in a statement on May 11.

It said Mirziyaev "underscored that the general defense of human rights is a priority of ongoing deep structural reforms in Uzbekistan."

Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said on Twitter that the May 10-12 visit was a chance for Mirziyaev to "turn [the] page" on the record of Karimov.

Karimov, who had ruled since before the Soviet breakup, tolerated no dissent and kept Uzbekistan under tight control for more than a quarter-century.

Mirziyaev has taken steps that appear intended to open up the isolated country of around 30 million and improve ties with other nations, particularly its neighbors.

The European media director for HRW, Andrew Stroehlein, said that Tashkent "has blocked such visits by top UN officials for some 12 or 13 years."

In a tweet, Stroehlein added that "if Uzbekistan really wants to show it's changing direction, it takes more than a visit. Start by releasing 1000s of political prisoners."

Mirziyaev left on May 11 for a state visit to China.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service
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