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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 June, 2003, 21:02 GMT 22:02 UK
'Illegal' Uzbek opposition meet

By Catherine Davis
BBC Central Asia correspondent

Islam Karimov, President of Uzbekistan
Karimov tolerates little open opposition

A banned opposition party in Uzbekistan has held its first formal meeting in 10 years.

Some 30 members of the Erk (freedom) party's central committee gathered in the capital Tashkent, where they criticised the government and pledged to step up their activities.

Erk was the first independent political party to appear in Uzbekistan, just before the former Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Its registration was later revoked.

Uzbekistan is a tightly controlled state under President Islam Karimov, where there is little open opposition.

Secret meetings

The meeting went ahead but not without a last-minute hitch.

The fact these gatherings have taken place will be seen as a positive sign, but the real test will be what happens afterwards
The hotel was told it should not host such a gathering and a new venue had to be found.

The party leader rallied those present with calls for Erk to become a real political force for the next parliamentary and presidential elections.

He said the government had turned people into slaves instead of giving them freedom.

For the past decade Erk has been unable to operate officially.

The party's registration was revoked in the early 1990s and its head forced into exile.

Since then, members have only been able to meet in secret.

Erk activists and others believe the reason they have been able to hold this meeting openly is due to international pressure.

Last month another illegal opposition party also held its first formal meeting in a long time.

The fact these gatherings have taken place will be seen as a positive sign, but the real test will be what happens afterwards.

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