Russia conquered Uzbekistan in the late 19th century. Stiff resistance to the Red Army after World War I was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic set up in 1925. During the Soviet era, intensive production of "white gold" (cotton) and grain led to overuse of agrochemicals and the depletion of water supplies, which have left the land poisoned and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half dry. Independent since 1991, the country seeks to gradually lessen its dependence on agriculture while developing its mineral and petroleum reserves. Current concerns include insurgency by Islamic militants based in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, a non-convertible currency, and the curtailment of human rights and democratisation.
Update No: 278- (01/03/04)
The Uzbek regime continues to appal the Western governments and institutions with which it has relations. Until recently this might seemed to have excluded the Americans. But this was never really so. There was a feeling with them that the regime might be amenable to pressure expressed privately. The results have been poor, however, and the option of cutting off all US aid, amounting to more than $100m per year is being considered and is likely.
The only reason for Western involvement is the strategic importance of the country in the struggle against terrorism. There are however, no resources on the scale of Kazakstan's that render it a likely source of considerable exports to the West.
Appalling rights record
The regime goes in for a quite gratuitous scale of repression. There is nothing like the groundswell behind Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia that obtained and still does in Afghanistan. Fundamentalist groups do operate, but their chance of making any sort of political dent are negligible. Communism generally undermined extreme forms of Islamic piety that ban alcohol and the young consorting on easy terms between the sexes.
If anything is promoting extremism it is the grim successor regime to communism, which is even more venal and arbitrary in its rule. The most prolific group is that of Hizbut Tahrir. A particularly horrific practice that has surfaced recently is that of boiling prisoners alive. The secret police conduct it in the notorious Jazlik high security prison.
A most revealing case that has occurred recently concerns the 63-year old mother of a religious prisoner, Muzafar Avazov, clearly done to death in this way in Jazlik in 2002, namely Fatima Mukhadirova. She has been sentenced to six years of hard labour, likely to kill her, for making public her son's torture. She was convicted of trying "to overthrow the constitutional order." On February 12th a judge said that she had "set up an underground cell of women propagating the ideas of Hizbut Tahrir," the police having found incriminating pamphlets in her flat, a common occurrence in case of group arrests.
The great Western champion of human rights in Uzbekistan, the British ambassador, Craig Murray, has testified: "This is appalling. She took photographs of her son's corpse which she gave to the British embassy. The Foreign Office sent them to the University of Glasgow's Pathology Department. Their forensic report said the body had clearly been immersed (in boiling water) because of the tide marks around the upper torso."
The Uzbek authorities maintain that he died after inmates spilt hot tea on him!
Military base to stay
The suspension of aid, if it takes place, is likely to be graduated yet could exclude military aid. The Uzbek regime has provided a most useful base in the south at Khanabad for US and UK forces, which they will want to hang onto for a long time to come. The relationship between Uzbekistan and the West is likely to remain fractious for years, but not necessarily forever, because the regime will not be for ever.
However, US laws prohibit Washington from supporting regimes that are too abusive of human rights. The US State Department has to annually "certify" regimes that are on the aid list as being sufficiently supportive of human rights. Without that certification, US law effectively prohibits US assistance. This could be another area where the State Department and the Pentagon are in conflict.
UzDaewooAvto plans bigger production
The UzDaewooAvto carmaking group will raise production by 55.5% to 63,000 in 2004, a source in the plant's administration said, Interfax News Agency reported recently.
Car production for 2003 totalled 40,505. The source said this forecast for car production growth was included in UzDaewooAvto's business plan for 2004. Car production went up by 16% in 2003. The plant, which is located in the Uzbek city of
Asaka, exported 17,002 cars in 2003, which is 36% more than in 2002. UzDaewooAvto was established by Uzbekistan's Uzavtoprom association and South Korea's Daewoo Corp on a parity basis.
World Bank lends Uzbekistan US$60m to renovate drainage system
The World Bank signed an agreement on a US$60m loan for Uzbekistan to renovate the drainage system and irrigation infrastructure on the Amudarya delta, the World Bank's office in Tashkent said.
The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) - the World Bank's development arm - will provide US$35m of the funds repayable in 20 years with a five-year grace at an undisclosed rate.
The International Development Agency (IDA) will issue the other US$25m repayable in 35 years with a 10-year grace.
Uzbekistan itself will invest US$14.55 million in the project, Interfax News Agency reported.
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