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Last Updated: Monday, 30 January 2006, 11:33 GMT
Uzbek opposition leader on trial
Sanjar Umarov - file photo
Sanjar Umarov was arrested more than three months ago
A prominent Uzbek opposition leader has gone on trial for alleged economic crimes.

Sanjar Umarov, the Sunshine Uzbekistan leader, was arrested in October 2005 for embezzlement, a charge supporters say is politically motivated.

He has been held incommunicado in one of Tashkent's prisons ever since.

Mr Umarov's lawyer said that when he visited his client in jail shortly after the arrest, he found him naked and incoherent.

The trial began on Monday morning, but was immediately adjourned until 3 February.

Mr Umarov, an entrepreneur with business and family ties in the US, was accused of money-laundering and other economic crimes which relate to business dealings in Uzbekistan several years ago.

He came to prominence last year in the wake of May's shootings in the city of Andijan, where eyewitnesses say troops killed hundreds of people.

His group openly criticised the government's repressive policies and called for free-market reforms in Uzbekistan, where the economy has stagnated because of excessive centralisation and corruption, the BBC's Ian MacWilliam in Central Asia says. Since the Andijan crackdown, Uzbek authorities have put scores of people on trial for their part in the uprising.

Outside observers have said the court actions are show trials.

Also on Monday, human rights activist Mutabar Tajibayeva went on trial in Tashkent province. She faces charges of receiving money from USAID and the French embassy, and using the money to "breach public order" and commit slander.

'Drugged'

Mr Umarov was arrested shortly after sending a letter to parliament calling on lawmakers to discuss reforms.

His supporters allege that he has been drugged by the authorities.

Human rights groups say the Uzbek authorities often use mood-altering drugs to extract confessions - a claim that Tashkent denies.

Our correspondent says that since the shootings, the government has been rounding up anyone who openly criticises its policies.

Sunshine Uzbekistan is virtually the only opposition group in the country to have said anything openly since President Islam Karimov crushed earlier opposition parties 10 years ago, our correspondent says.


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