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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 May, 2003, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
Uzbek president silent on rights abuses
Islam Karimov, President of Uzbekistan
President Islam Karimov failed to condemn torture

President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan has been criticised at an international meeting in his own capital for failing to make an expected promise to improve human rights.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) - one of Uzbekistan's main lenders - had said Mr Karimov would condemn torture when he opened the bank's annual meeting in Tashkent.

But the words did not materialise, with the president instead praising the bank for its role "in the reforms being undertaken in Uzbekistan and in the consistent democratic and economic renovation of the country".

This prompted an expression of disappointment by the bank's president, Jean Lemierre.

"Some of us may have expected words on human rights and economic progress," he said.

And the UK International Development Secretary, Clare Short, urged Mr Karimov to implement the recommendations of a United Nations report which found the use of torture in Uzbek jails systematic.


Mr Karimov argues that tough measures are needed to stop the rise of militant Islam.

But the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said the radicalising effect of the president's repression posed the biggest threat to Uzbekistan's security.

People buying papers in Uzbekistan
The country is considered one of the most authoritarian in the region

He described Mr Karimov's failure as "extremely disappointing and a remarkable example of wavering Soviet-era speech with no reference to reality", adding that Mr Lemierre's response had been ineffectual.

"Lemierre, who was supposed to have had two versions of his speech, must have read from the wrong one, because it was not as shortly critical as it should have been, given Karimov's contemptuous treatment of the EBRD," he said.

Human rights groups had campaigned for the annual meeting to be moved Tashkent because of Uzbekistan's poor human rights record.

About 30 protestors who demonstrated outside the hotel hosting the meeting were photographed by police.


The EBRD was set up to foster economic and democratic reform in the countries of the former Soviet bloc.

Part of its mandate is to work only in countries that are committed to the principles of multi-party democracy, human rights and a market economy.

Economies throughout Central Asia were badly affected by the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The region's governments are widely accused of corruption and have done little to improve living standards and open up their economies.

The EBRD says the level of foreign investment is among the lowest in countries making the transition from communism.

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