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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Worries for West in Uzbek unrest
By Steven Eke
BBC regional analyst

Soldiers block a road leading out of the Uzbek capital Tashkent
Uzbekistan's record on human rights has been sidelined
For years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan was seen as an impoverished, corrupt and repressive state ruled by a strongman president, Islam Karimov.

But concerns about human rights and the lack of democracy have been sidelined, as the US-led "war on terror" has transformed the country into one of Washington's closest allies.

The reports coming from Uzbekistan of violent attacks on police, shoot-outs and a harsh security clampdown will pose difficult questions for Western governments.

Uzbekistan last saw comparable bombings in 1999. The country's president, Islam Karimov, blamed those on Islamic radicals and Uzbek courts imprisoned thousands of alleged sympathisers.

'Systematic' torture

Political opposition is not tolerated in Uzbekistan. The media is not free. The UN says torture is "systematic".

Nevertheless, after the attacks of 11 September 2001, Uzbekistan was placed firmly on the map as a US ally.

The Uzbek government made its airspace and military facilities available to US forces, facilitating the operation to remove the Taleban in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan has since become an important strategic outpost for the United States.

Extremism

President Bush has noticeably left Uzbekistan out of speeches condemning repressive regimes.

There is talk of reducing financial assistance to Uzbekistan but, so far, little real action.

Western analysts believe that, whatever the relationship between events in Uzbekistan and the wider threat of Islamist organisations, economic discontent and repression mean that Uzbekistan has become a breeding ground for political extremism.

Uzbekistan's allies will now be hoping that the country's government does not use the current unrest to launch an even harsher crackdown on dissent.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's David Chazan
"The explosions may have been the work of Uzbek militants"



SEE ALSO:
Violent unrest rocks Uzbekistan
30 Mar 04  |  Asia-Pacific
'Terror' blasts rock Uzbekistan
29 Mar 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Uzbekistan
25 Mar 04  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Uzbekistan
14 Jan 04  |  Country profiles
The US-Uzbekistan trade-off
05 Oct 01  |  Asia-Pacific


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