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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 June, 2005, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
Uzbekistan group calls for reform
By Ian MacWilliam
BBC Central Asia correspondent

Sanjar Umarov, head of Sunshine Uzbekistan opposition group " 25/05/2005
Uzbek businessman Sanjar Umarov leads Sunshine Uzbekistan
An opposition group in Uzbekistan has written to the US secretary of state asking for Washington to press for economic reform in the republic.

The recently formed Sunshine Uzbekistan Coalition says the government's bloody suppression of a protest in Andijan last month shocked Uzbek citizens.

The coalition called for economic reforms to prevent a drift towards extremism.

Sunshine Uzbekistan appeared on the Uzbek political scene only in April.

Now the group has written to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling on Washington and other countries to support its programme for economic reforms in Uzbekistan.

Poverty fears

Without what the letter describes as "forceful intervention" by the US and the world community, it says that repressive Uzbek government policies will continue to radicalise the population, increasing support for extremists

Sunshine Uzbekistan is led by Sanjar Umarov, an Uzbek businessman with strong ties to the United States.

The coalition was set up by a group of businessmen and human rights workers who say that economic reforms are essential to prevent this Central Asian nation from sinking into poverty and radicalism.

This letter to Condoleezza Rice comes a month after soldiers opened fire on a large anti-government protest in the eastern town of Andijan.

Human rights groups and witnesses say as many as 500 people died. The government says only 173 were killed.

Sunshine Uzbekistan disputed the government's assertion that those who were killed were Islamic terrorists.

Their letter said the Andijan protest was supported by peaceful citizens who had lost faith in their government, and it accused Tashkent of criminal responsibility for the loss of life.

Sunshine Uzbekistan is still a somewhat mysterious group.

Most opposition parties are banned in Uzbekistan, and in the wake of the Andijan killings, human rights groups say there has been a wave of arrests of people who have criticised the government.


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