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Last Updated: Friday, 23 September 2005, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Troops lift Russian-Uzbek ties
By Ian MacWilliam
BBC News, Tashkent

Russia and Uzbekistan are holding their first joint military exercises in hills north of the Uzbek city of Samarkand.

With 200 soldiers from each side taking part, the three-day drills will also involve paratroopers and an elite Russian commando unit.

The exercises are being seen as a sign of closer relations between Moscow and Tashkent.

They come just two months after the Uzbeks issued an ultimatum to US forces to leave a base in southern Uzbekistan.

The military drills are taking place in a range of hills near the village of Farish, 100km (62 miles) north of Samarkand.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov and his Uzbek counterpart, Kadyr Gulomov, were due to inspect the proceedings on Friday.

Mr Ivanov said the drills were aimed at countering the increasing flow of illegal drugs from nearby Afghanistan.

The exercises are the latest sign of a significant warming of relations between Moscow and ex-Soviet Uzbekistan.

After independence Tashkent turned away from Russia and pursued ties with the United States.

But relations with Washington were always dogged by Uzbekistan's abysmal human rights record and its authoritarian policies.

Tashkent became an ally in Washington's war on terror, when it invited the Americans to use an old Soviet base in the south of the country to back up its military operations in Afghanistan.

But in July, Tashkent ordered the Americans to leave, after Washington criticised the Uzbek authorities for apparently killing many civilians when troops crushed a protest in the eastern town of Andijan.

The name of the village of Farish, where the exercises are taking place, is derived from the French capital Paris.

The mediaeval conqueror, Tamerlane, who ruled a vast Asian empire from Samarkand, named surrounding villages after such cities as Paris, Baghdad and Damascus, to emphasise the grandeur of his own capital city.

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