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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 May 2007, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Uzbekistan rejects EU criticism
Bodies from the Uzbekistan unrest
The EU condemned the killings in Andijan in 2005
Uzbekistan has criticised the European Union's decision to maintain limited sanctions against it because of the country's poor human rights record.

The Uzbek foreign ministry said the decision was unfounded, biased and an "instrument of systematic pressure... dressed up in human rights rhetoric".

The sanctions were imposed in 2005 after Uzbek troops fired on protesters in the eastern town of Andijan.

Eyewitnesses say around 500 civilians, including women and children, died.

But the Uzbek authorities say only 187 people were killed and that they were either members of the security forces or Islamic militants.

'Counter-productive'

The EU foreign ministers agreed on Monday to extend the sanctions for another six months because they remained "seriously concerned about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan".

Under the decision, an arms embargo will continue and eight senior Uzbek officials will remain subject to a visa ban.

This gives the chance for the Uzbeks to really show that they mean what they said in the last human rights council
Benita Ferrero-Waldner
EU External Relations Commissioner

The restrictions on four others were lifted, however, with three of them having given up their posts.

The organisation's external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said it was important to encourage progress in human rights dialogue with Tashkent while making it clear the EU remained concerned.

"This gives the chance for the Uzbeks to really show that they mean what they said in the last human rights council and we think this is a way of engaging with the Uzbeks," she said.

But the Uzbek foreign ministry condemned the decision, saying it was "biased and unfounded and is aimed, under the cover of human rights rhetoric, at using the so-called sanctions as a tool for keeping Uzbekistan under systematic pressure".

"It is obvious that the decision is counter-productive and cannot help implement programmes of cooperation that suit both EU and Uzbek interests," the ministry said in a statement.

The government did not respond to the EU's call for it to release jailed human rights activists such as Gulbahor Turayeva, who was sentenced to six years in prison last month for anti-constitutional activities, slander and distributing materials threatening public order.


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