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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 March, 2004, 09:10 GMT 10:10 UK
Analysis: Causes of Uzbek unrest
By Malcolm Haslett
BBC Eurasia analyst

As new incidents of shooting and bombings were being reported near the Uzbek capital Tashkent, Foreign Minister Sadyk Safayev and other officials talked of "foreign involvement" and described the violence as an attempt to "split the international anti-terror coalition".

Uzbek watch a speech on the violence by President Islam Karimov
The Uzbek government keeps tight control over the situation

Uzbekistan has certainly made no secret of its commitment to the global "war on terrorism" and was one of the first in Central Asia to offer practical help to US President George W Bush when he launched a direct attack on the Taleban regime in Afghanistan.

The US-led coalition still has soldiers and airmen at the Khanabad base in southern Uzbekistan, as well as at Manas airport in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, and on the eve of a recent visit to Uzbekistan by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Foreign Minister Safayev stated he did not "rule out" that the base might become a permanent one.

That would certainly make Uzbekistan a target for international groups.

The Uzbek authorities are also reporting that at least two of the explosions in the latest upsurge in violence were caused by "suicide bombers", thus emphasising the tactical similarities between the latest Uzbek attacks and the violence in the Middle East.

For years, Uzbek President Islam Karimov has emphasised that international groups like al-Qaeda have been training Uzbek and other Central Asian volunteers, as well as supporting militant groups which are active in Uzbekistan, notably the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Hizb ut-Tahrir (Islamic Liberation Party).

There can be little doubt that international Islamist organisations have offered their support to Uzbek militants and that those militants have been only too ready to accept.

Young Uzbek trainees have been captured in Afghanistan among Taleban forces and it is quite credible that the pattern of the latest violence has been influenced directly or indirectly by international Islamist groups.

But even if one accepts all this, it is impossible to ignore certain domestic factors which have almost certainly encouraged the growth of extremism among young Uzbek Muslims.

Repression and stagnation

A number of international agencies and personalities have warned, with increasing insistence, that the Uzbek authorities were merely strengthening sympathy for militant groups by their repressive actions.

Though officially there is both freedom of religion and of expression in Uzbekistan, mosques which did not keep closely to state prescriptions were closed down in the early 1990s.

And since then thousands have been detained for things they have said or for quite innocent manifestations of Islam like the wearing of beards or headscarves.

Secular opposition parties have also been suppressed.

And the economy, meanwhile, has sunk into stagnation thanks to bureaucracy and corruption.

This has all contributed greatly to general feelings of frustration.

There have been repeated warnings from human rights groups like the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch, as well as the British Ambassador to Tashkent, Craig Murray, that the absence of any legitimate way of expressing dissent would, as in other parts of the world, create fertile ground for the proponents of violence.

US offers Uzbeks help with probe
31 Mar 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Uzbek state media slow on terror
30 Mar 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Worries for West in Uzbek unrest
30 Mar 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Uzbekistan
14 Jan 04  |  Country profiles

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