Uzbek leader silences critics of massacre


By Andrew Osborn in Moscow 
Published: 13 May 2006 

http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article364618.ece

Islam Karimov, the hardline President of Uzbekistan,
will come under new pressure to allow an independent
investigation into well-documented claims that his
troops murdered at least 500 people last year. A year
ago today, his soldiers opened fire on a crowd of
unarmed civilians, including women and children, in
the eastern town of Andijan. 

Today, activists will rally outside 10 Downing Street
to press the British Government to step up pressure on
Mr Karimov, while human rights groups are lobbying
Washington and Brussels to get tough with Tashkent
over the incident, which has come to be known as the
Andijan massacre.

The killings have divided the international community
and seen Uzbekistan, a strategically important,
gas-rich central Asian country that borders
Afghanistan, become a pariah state in the West. The
European Union and the United States have expressed
grave doubts about the legality of the events of 13
May 2005 and have called, so far in vain, for an
independent inquiry.

Brussels has imposed a visa ban on some of Mr
Karimov's most senior officials and has suspended
certain political and trade relations, while similar
measures are being drawn up in the US. But Mr Karimov,
an authoritarian Soviet-era leader who has ruled
Uzbekistan since 1989, has dismissed calls for an
inquiry and has found strong support from Russia and
China.

His version of events could not be more different from
that of human rights activists. He claims the final
death toll was 187 and that most of those killed were
"terrorists" who were planning to overthrow the
government with the help of foreign extremists and
radical Islamist groups. His troops had no choice but
to get tough, he argues, since they were facing a
well-planned coup attempt that, if successful, would
have given radical Islam a foothold in one of central
Asia's most important countries.

Mr Karimov's case is helped by the fact that the
Andijan events appear to have been triggered by the
violent actions of disgruntled friends and relatives
of 23 businessmen on trial for Islamic extremism. They
attempted a jailbreak, seized weapons, killed an
unknown number of security officials, and took
hostages.

That then led to apparently spontaneous street
protests in Andijan, where thousands of locals
gathered to protest against the crushing poverty they
live in. It was those crowds that found themselves
fired upon without warning by heavily armed troops
backed by armoured personnel carriers.

Human rights groups do not dispute that the
authorities had to react firmly to the unfolding
situation. But they allege that disproportionate force
was used, that between 500 and 1,000 unarmed civilians
were killed in the clampdown that followed, and that
the government has used the massacre as a pretext for
a crackdown on its enemies.

Allison Gill, the head of Human Rights Watch's Moscow
office, said the EU and the US needed to impose
tougher sanctions against Tashkent and complained that
a year later there was still no justice for the
victims of Andijan. "In the year since the Andijan
massacre, there has been a stunning lack of
accountability," she said.

She added that more than 150 people had been convicted
in connection with the Andijan protests by the Uzbek
authorities in the past year, in a series of what she
called "show trials".

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights
Watch, said: "The Uzbek government has spared no
effort to silence anyone who dares to speak the truth
about what happened in Andijan."

This week, a small demonstration of activists
demanding an independent investigation into Andijan
was broken up in Tashkent. And Mr Karimov shows few
signs of changing his hardline approach. Russian
television showed him meeting the Russian President,
Vladimir Putin, at a Black Sea resort yesterday to
agree an agreement on closer co-operation between
Uzbekistan and Russia. Neither of them mentioned
Andijan during the talks.

Slaughter and its aftermath

* 13 MAY 2005

At least 500 killed in eastern city of Andijan when
security forces fire into crowd of demonstrators
protesting against the imprisonment of businessmen
accused of Islamic militancy. Karimov regime denies
killing anyone.

* SEPTEMBER 2005

Uzbekistan puts 15 suspects on trial. It is condemned
as a 'show trial' and travesty of justice.

* NOVEMBER 2005

Supreme Court convicts the 15 men of organising the
unrest and jails them for between 14 and 20 years.
Human rights groups claim torture was used to extract
forced confessions.

* DECEMBER 2005

58 others sentenced. The government claims the death
toll was 187, and that most were killed by the
'Islamic insurgents' who organised the unrest. 








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