Police in the Uzbek capital are taking a unique approach to preventing road accidents -- taking bicycles off the streets.
Regional media report that the Tashkent traffic police have launched an unofficial campaign against cyclists in the belief that they cause traffic accidents.
Authorities have reportedly set up a special squad tasked with imposing fines and seizing bicycles from riders who violate traffic regulations.
Dozens of people have reportedly had their bikes confiscated by traffic police since the campaign began on April 21, and some owners of bike-rental shops have been told by the authorities to shut down their businesses.
Tashkent traffic police officer Musurmon Hudoyqulov confirmed in a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that bicycles are being seized from owners and that rental shops are being shut down by local authorities.
But Hudoyqulov stressed that the campaign was intended to clamp down on reckless riders. "If cyclists don't violate the rules, don't ride in the middle of the road, and follow traffic signs, we don't stop them," he said.
"But there are many youngsters who violate rules, especially during traffic jams. They don't stop at red lights, and cause traffic accidents."
Hudoyqulov didn't elaborate on the number of traffic accidents involving cyclists in the Uzbek capital. According to official figures, Uzbekistan's traffic police registered more than 3.3 million road accidents in the country in 2012. It is unclear how many of them involved bicycles.
The officer said owners of confiscated bicycles can reclaim them after paying a fine. Cyclists who spoke to RFE/RL said they had paid penalties of 26,000 soms (approximately $13), about one-tenth the average monthly salary in Uzbekistan.
Not Welcome Here
One university student, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained the circumstances of his run-in with police this week, when he was stopped while cycling on Tashkent's central Navoi Street.
"He told me not to ride in the road, and to move instead to the sidewalk," the student said, adding that he was fined.
An owner of a bike-rental shop in the city's Chilanzar neighborhood told the Tashkent-based Noviyvek.uz website that several of his customers had their bikes confiscated by the police even before they had a chance to ride.
"Police officers arrived in three vehicles and without saying a word they seized bikes from the men," the shop owner told Noviyvek.uz. He said the cyclists were taken to a police station and released after paying a fine.
Bicycles are increasingly used as a means of everyday transport in Uzbekistan's capital and dozens of bike-rental businesses have opened to meet demand.
But Tashkent has been slow to adjust to the increase in bicycle traffic and has yet to establish bike paths or special bike routes.
Ergash, a resident who asked that his full name not be used, gave cycling a spin but has already given up hope. He recently placed an ad on the Internet to sell the bike he purchased only a year ago.
"I want to get rid of it because it seems cycling has become illegal in my city," Ergash told RFE/RL.
Written by Farangis Najibullah, based on reporting by RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Shukhrat Babajanov