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Thursday, March 5, 1998 Published at 15:10 GMT

image: [ BBC Correspondent Louise Hidalgo ]Louise Hidalgo

The authorities in Uzbekistan say they are taking legal action against one of the most influential Islamic preachers in the country for insults against the Uzbek constitution. Officials say they want to question the preacher, Abidkhon Nazarov, about his Muslim teachings, which are considered radical by the tough secular government. Louise Hidalgo reports from Tashkent:

Plainclothes policemen surrounded the entrance to Mr Nazarov's home from the early morning. Officials said they had come to take him in for questioning since he had failed to appear of his own accord - instead, they found only his family and a handful of supporters.

Abidkhon Nazarov is a well-known preacher, or imam, who led one of the biggest mosques in the capital until his dismissal two years ago. He is popular among the young and is one of the new generation of clerics who defy state control and preach the sort of purist Islam considered dangerous by the government.

It is not the first time the authorities have acted against him, and he has repeatedly complained of harassment. Last year, the government accused Mr Nazarov of slander and inciting ethnic discord.

These latest charges, however, are more serious: if found guilty, he could go to prison for several years.

The move comes at a time when the Uzbek authorities are especially sensitive about the spread of Islamic ideas.

Following the killing of several policemen in the eastern town of Namangan last year, the Uzbek authorities have waged a propaganda war against what they call "wahabis" -- a reference to the strict Sunni sect which originated in Saudi Arabia.

Hundreds of people, many of them devout believers, are reported to have been rounded up.

The leadership is terrified that political Islam could eventually take root and is opposed to the partly-Islamic government being drawn up across the border in Tajikistan.

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