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Uzbek President Heads For Paris In First Official Visit To EU Country

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev is making a trip to France, his first official visit to a European Union country since taking the helm of the long-isolated Central Asian state.

Mirziyoev left Tashkent for Paris on October 8 for a two-day official visit, his office said.

The trip appears to part of a continuing effort by Mirziyoev, who came to power after the death of autocratic longtime leader Islam Karimov in 2016, to improve the former Soviet republic's ties with countries in the West and other parts of the world.

Mirziyoev met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in May.

In Paris, he is scheduled to hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron as well as with other government officials, lawmakers, and representatives of French financial institutions and companies, his office said.

Ahead of the visit, an Uzbek Foreign Ministry official told the French news agency AFP that as of October 5, French nationals can travel to Uzbekistan for up to 30 days without a visa. Citizens of other EU countries do not have that right.

In December 2016, Mirziyoev announced a plan to introduce visa-free entry for citizens of 27 countries by April 2017, but the move was called off weeks later due to what authorities said were security concerns.

Currently Uzbekistan offers visa-free entry to citizens of Turkey, Israel, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, and the most of the former Soviet republics.

On September 26, a prominent Uzbek human rights activist and outspoken critic of Karimov returned to Uzbekistan after more than a decade in exile in France.

Tolib Yoqubov, 78, the founder of the Uzbek Human Rights Society, fled Uzbekistan in 2007 fearing for his safety, and Uzbek authorities withdrew his citizenship in 2014.

He told RFE/RL that the Uzbek Embassy in Paris initiated his return to Uzbekistan.

With reporting by AFP and Turon 24
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