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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 November, 2003, 10:44 GMT
'Smeared' UK envoy's return urged
Tashkent
Ambassador Craig Murray has criticised the Uzbek authorities
A British MEP has called for the UK ambassador to Uzbekistan to return to work, amid claims he was the victim of smears by the Tashkent authorities.

Craig Murray, 44, returned to the UK two months ago on sick leave.

Opposition MEP John Bowis says Mr Murray is now well. The Foreign Office says it is awaiting medical clearance.

Campaigners say Mr Murray was urged to resign after annoying his host and its strategic ally, the US, by criticising human rights abuses in Uzbekistan.

Land Rover

Mr Bowis, a member of the Conservative Party, said he has raised Mr Murray's case at the European Parliament and asked the European Commission to challenge the Foreign Office on the reasons behind his extended absence.

Friends have said Mr Murray needed medical treatment because he was suffering depression after being threatened by the Foreign Office over alleged misconduct.

Accusations against him reportedly included allowing an embassy Land Rover to be driven down some steps, drinking into the early hours with contacts and backing the visa application of the daughter of an Uzbek family friend.

A charge d'affaires has been sent to the former Soviet republic until the Scot is well enough to return to work.

But the Foreign Office has said it shares Mr Murray's concerns about human rights in the former Soviet state, and insisted that he remains the ambassador.

Both the US and Uzbekistan deny any involvement in the affair.

US aid

Following the 11 September attacks on the US, Uzbek President Islam Karimov won favour with Washington by allowing its forces a base in Uzbekistan, affording ready access across the Afghan border.

US aid to the central Asian country has since increased.

In a speech last November in Tashkent, just months after taking up his post, Mr Murray launched a strong attack on the Uzbek government.

He said up to 10,000 political or religious prisoners were being detained.

Mr Murray, one of Britain's youngest ambassadors, compared the regime of long-time president Mr Karimov with Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

His comments were included in the Foreign Office's annual report on human rights, published in September.




SEE ALSO:
Timeline: Uzbekistan
09 Jul 03  |  Country profiles
Reform delays 'hitting Uzbekistan'
08 Jul 03  |  Business


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