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Last Updated: Friday, 13 May, 2005, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
What lies behind Uzbek protests?
By Jenny Norton
BBC, Tashkent

Protesters outside Andijan court, 11/5/05
Protests outside an Andijan court had been mounting all week
Most of the protesters who have crowded into Andijan's central square today are local people - men and women, old people and even some young children.

They have come to call for an end to the poverty and injustice which they say have become a part of their daily lives.

Unemployment is very high in eastern Uzbekistan and many young people feel they no longer have a future in the area.

Andijan has been particularly hard hit by the Uzbek government's continuing crackdown against Islamic groups.

Most populous central Asian former Soviet republic, home to 26m people
Ruled since independence in 1991 by autocrat Islam Karimov
Accused by rights groups of serious human rights abuses, including torture
Rocked by violence in capital Tashkent in 2004
Government says radical Islamic groups behind violence

Hundreds of young men have been arrested, and it is common to meet people in the city who have husbands, brothers and fathers in jail.

Many men who have been released from prison complain of being mistreated.

They say vicious beatings are commonplace. All this has added to a growing sense of anger.

Some of the people leading Friday's demonstration in Andijan were set free when armed men stormed the town's prison in the early hours of the morning.

They include a number of prominent local businessmen who have been standing trial accused of belonging to an Islamic extremist group.

Their supporters have been involved in a peaceful protest which has been going on outside an Andijan court for the past four months.

At this stage the identity of the gunmen who stormed the prison is not known, and it is not clear what, if any, connection they have to the people organising the demonstration.

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