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UZBEKISTAN


 

 

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 9,949 9,713 11,300 91
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 420 450 550 173
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (date from the World Bank)

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REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km) 
447,400 

Population 
26,410,416

Principal 
ethnic groups 
Uzbeks 71.4%
Russians 8.3%
Tajiks 4.7%
Kazaks 4.1%

Capital 
Tashkent 

Currency 
Uzbek Sum

President 
Islam Karimov


Update No: 293 - (27/05/05)

Trial leads to unrest and fight for freedom
Dramatic events are afoot in Uzbekistan. Uzbeks in recent weeks have shown increasing willingness to challenge their authoritarian leadership in protests, apparently bolstered by the March uprising in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan that drove out President Askar Akayev and by the so-called Orange and Rose Revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia.
A trial against 23 Islamic small businessmen (mostly shopkeepers) in mid-May in Andizhan, a large city in eastern Uzbekistan, accused of terror ties and extremism, inspired one of the largest public shows of anger over alleged rights abuses by the government. The protesters' main demand was the release from prison of the group's mentor, Akram Yuldashev, but they also wanted to liberate their comrades from prison.
A group of gunmen raided the prison and several administrative buildings there on May 13th. The government sent troops into the city. At night they stormed and ousted the rebels from the buildings. Soldiers shot at thousands of armed protestors, who had, however, successfully freed 2,000 inmates from prison. Karimov didn't say who fired first, but at least 100 people were wounded in the battle. 
"We did not want bloodshed, we did not want to use force," the president, Islam Karimov, stressed. Still, he said that ten policemen had been killed in the clashes, while the gunmen's death toll had been higher. Western media reports said over 50 people had been killed and 96 injured during the Andizhan riot. 
But the very next day things took an even bloodier turn. Around 500 people were killed as troops opened fire on a group of insurgents who were trying to break through a group of police and soldiers in the central square. Several other bloody incidents occurred in the city; but a full report is not yet available.
Karimov said that they were trying to negotiate a peaceful end to protests. In the bloodbath that ensued, witnesses say that the troops shot down many innocent people too. Soldiers kept relatives of the victims from collecting the bodies, and loaded them on a bus. 

Karimov blames Islamic fundamentalists; no deal with them
The president alleged that the fierce clashes in Andizhan had been orchestrated by Hizb ut Tahrir (the Islamic Liberation Party that has branches in many countries). He always blames the religious fundamentalists for public unrest, although, as we shall see, the people have plenty of reasons for their discontent, which the extremists can channel in their direction.
Hizb ut Tahrir al Islami is a political and religious organization that was established in the middle of last century. Its aim is to turn the world into a caliphate and make all Muslims observe Sharia, the code of Islamic laws. The organization originated in Uzbekistan, but then spread its activities to the neighbouring Central Asian republics of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. 
"Those who seized the administration building in Andizhan are members of Hizb ut Tahrir's local branch, Akramia," Karimov told a news conference in Tashkent. He said that he had held talks with the man leading the group that had seized the administration building, who had declined to give his name. 
According to Karimov, he was in Andizhan at 7.30 in the morning of May 14th and immediately came into talks with the rebels. The president said they must leave the building and suggested taking them in buses wherever they wanted, promising security for them. 
In response the gunmen demanded the release of the local prison inmates linked to Hizb ut Tahrir and Akramia, said the president. "We have never satisfied and will never satisfy political demands advanced by criminals," Karimov noted, giving no further details. "With dusk the fighters split into three groups and escaped in different directions as they saw the circle around them narrowing. Some of them infiltrated the neighbouring republic of Kyrgyzstan," said Karimov. In his words, the gunmen talked to someone in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan on their mobile phones. 
Karimov said the authorities had done their best to avoid bloodshed even when several rebel snipers appeared on the administration building's roof. 
"Religious fanaticism is the most dangerous thing. I do not want it to take hold of young people's minds. I want our country to develop into a democracy, but gradually, rather than through a revolution," President Karimov emphasized.

Regional problem 
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (quite distinct from Hizb ut Tahrir) which is linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban and which the US has put on its list of terrorist groups, fought for establishment of an Islamic state in the Ferghana Valley in the late 1990s.
The valley stretches across three countries, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Concerns are high that Ferghana could be a flashpoint for destabilising wide swathes of ex-Soviet Central Asia. The US is using an Uzbek air base far from the valley to support the anti-terror campaign in nearby Afghanistan. Neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan -- former Soviet republics like Uzbekistan, which also share the Ferghana Valley -- sealed their borders.

The chances for a Silk Revolution
Recent presidential elections in Ukraine and in Georgia, and parliamentary ones in Kyrgyzstan, have arguably initiated a tendency towards regime change in the post-Soviet space. Could this happen in Uzbekistan? 
The county's 15-year long president Islam Karimov has said that he would not let any type of revolution take place in his country, because he thinks, firstly, there is no basis for such a phenomenon in Uzbekistan, and, secondly, the leadership will try to avoid the mistakes of the Ukrainian and Georgian leaderships.
As the elections in Ukraine were unfolding in a dramatic manner, ordinary citizens in the former Soviet Union, including Uzbekistan, followed them like a Latin American soap-opera they are used to watching on their TV in which events unfold slowly and no one knows what the outcome will be. In Uzbekistan citizens, too, wondered if the "Ukrainian scenario" could be played in their country. An answer to this question was not of less interest both to the Uzbek leadership and their Russian counterparts who tried hard to install their own candidate, Viktor Yanukovich, in power in Ukraine and hope to revive the Russian influence in the former Soviet countries.
A velvet revolution through non-violent resistance came to the CIS from Central and Eastern Europe where in late 1980s and early 1990s, with the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union, former communist regimes began to fall apart to be replaced by non-communist, new generation leaders. In the former Soviet Union, however, most of the communist leaders remained in power. But a few years later people found themselves disappointed with the communist-transformed-democrats or rather pseudo-democrats who did not keep their independence-day promises of justice, freedom of speech and economic prosperity but rather usurped their power, enriched themselves and allowed no contenders for a throne through rigged elections. The time for radical political changes has come.
But will such regime change take place in Uzbekistan? According to foreign experts as well as local merchants and farmers, hard social and economic conditions of life, and more importantly people's desire, have created enough conditions for radical changes. The public discontent with the corruption in the law enforcement and justice system, absence of free speech and abuse of power by government officials have resulted in a number of protests in the past two years.

Vacuum in the opposition
"We are in a deep political and economic crisis", says leader of the unregistered opposition group "Ozod Dehqonlar" (Free Farmers) Nigora Hidoyatova. "The Ukrainian or Georgian scenario can be played in Uzbekistan too, but all depends on the political will of our government, on the level of their preparedness for changes in a peaceful way. Unlike Georgia and Ukraine, we don't have a parliamentary opposition."
There is not a single registered opposition party in Uzbekistan. All the five existing parties are fully loyal to the leadership of the government. They have not criticized the government's policies a single time.
"All of the five parties are pocket parties. People don't know them. During the whole time of their existence we haven't learned what their agenda is and what they have accomplished to improve the quality of life in the country," known human rights defender Surat Ikramov.
Indeed, of tens of questioned people in capital Tashkent's two biggest markets, Chor-Su and Alay, and in the streets of Ferghana, no one, even a few days before the parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan last December, could name all the five political parties and differences among them. They also did not know which party or which candidate they would vote for on the election day. Nevertheless the turn out last December 26 was claimed to be as high as 80%.

Profound repression
Despite the ban on censorship in the Constitution, according to Ikramov, the country's main law is violated almost everyday. Information in newspapers and on radio and TV is highly censored on a daily basis. Reports on the elections in Ukraine were biased and one-sided like in Russia where the press favoured Viktor Yanukovich. Uzbek president Islam Karimov even sent a congratulatory note to the latter in unison with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin before the Ukrainian Central Election Commission declared a winner and at the time when the rest of the world refused to recognize Yanukovich a winner due to faked-up votes.
The absence of freedom of speech deprives people of alternative sources of information. And, naturally, people do not have enough information about the existence and work of opposition groups. And moreover the government is intolerant to them. Because if even people followed opposition groups and became part of a few-thousand-men demonstration with their political demands, the question still up in the air is will the authorities tolerate them like in Georgia and Ukraine, or will they use force against the demonstrators?
One of the leaders of pro-government political party "Milliy Tiklanish" (National Renaissance) Hurshid Dostmuhammad, for example, is not sure that in Uzbekistan violence will not be employed.
"It is interesting to watch such events overseas and say 'Wow, this is a democracy!', but for Uzbekistan I wouldn't wish such a democracy. Just imagine, what if the blood of innocent people are shed during a demonstration? I don't need this type of democracy!"

Monolithic regime
In Uzbekistan in recent years no major political figure has declared opposition to the existing regime. Both Hidoyatova and Ikramov do not rule out that opposition leaders should have political experience of working in the government since it gives managerial and organization skills, supporters inside the government, certain administrative and financial resources and, certainly, a political weight. For example, in Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili was minister of justice and in Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko served as prime minister.
Russian analysts and journalists are confident that the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine wasn't possible without an outside and inside financial support which is probably true. In Uzbekistan in the severe conditions of government control over the economy, no class of oligarchs exists. No large business will ever finance opposition groups if it is not involved in politics and has no desire for radical changes. It is because in Uzbekistan major industries are still in the government's hands and other profitable sectors are controlled by relatives and associates of senior government officials.
Ikramov says that it is the mentality of Uzbek people and their indifference to politics that put off any kind of Ukrainian or Georgian-like revolution. Perhaps therefore at each protest demonstrations organized by opposition groups no more than 20-25 people attend. Although such indifference to politics may be the cause of the absence of free speech and the ban on any opposition activity. The long-time opposition movement "Birlik" (Unity) has been declined formal registration for the 6th time in the last decade.

Succession problem
The dictatorship is so repressive and monolithic that it might seem immortal. But man is mortal; and there are rumours of Karimov having serious health problems. Anyway, his tenure of office is due to expire.
According to a well-known Uzbek female-journalist, who spoke in condition of strict anonymity, no major political changes will take place in Uzbekistan in the next 2-3 years. "In 2007 president Karimov's second and last presidential term expires, according to the Constitution, and perhaps then will we witness some drastic political changes," she says.
It is hard to say now what type of changes there will be 2-3 years from now. Everything will depend on the decision Karimov will have to make. Whether he will want to prolong his stay in power by another constitutional change or he will want to bring his daughter to presidency or he will prefer some other scenario by installing a loyalist in power and himself still ruling behind the scene. It will also depend on the situation in the CIS and Central Asia and how much velvet and orange colours will prevail on this territory.
But the Uzbek leadership should also keep in mind that by keeping secular opposition groups out it is leaving a gap that may be filled in by more radical and violent Islamist groups still strong in the country and capable of gaining public support in rural areas. 

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ENERGY

Uzbekenergo calls for Tashkent GRES upgrade

Uzbek state power company Uzbekenergo proposed a tender to appoint a general contractor for the reconstruction of Tashkent State regional power plant (GRES) at a total cost of over 200m Euro, a source in the company said recently, Interfax News Agency reported.
The winner of the tender should provide a turnkey solution. The preliminary qualification round should be completed in mid-July and the result of the tender is expected to be announced in the fall. J-Power is the financial consultant for the tender.
This new power producing unit will have a steam gas generator with a capacity of 370 megawatts that will increase the capacity of the plant and improve its technical, economic and ecological parameters. The project will be financed by a credit from the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation of over 190m Euro and Uzbekenergo's own funds.
In May 2002 Ukbekenergo and JBIC signed a credit agreement for a loan for this project. It was initially planned to start reconstructing the plant in 2003 but due to delays with the choice of a financial consultant, the project was put back until 2004. Now it is expected that the reconstruction of the plant may begin at the start of 2006.
The first power-producing units at Tashkent GRES was launched in 1963 and the last in 1971. The plant currently has a capacity of 1.86 gegawatts.
According to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, most of the power plants in Uzbekistan are very old and need significant reconstruction. Reconstruction of thermal power plants alone will require investment of 1.15bn Euro over the next 3 to 5 years.
According to Uzbekenergo information, the shortage in capacity during peak consumption times in winter amounts to 800-900 megawatts.
Uzbekistan is part of the unified Central Asian energy system. The country's power plants have a capacity of 11.58 gegawatts.
The republic produces about 48bn kwh of electricity per year of which about 77% is at thermal power plants. Uzbekistan produced 49.627bn kwh of electricity in 2004, up 1.9%.

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FOREIGN COOPERATION

Kazakstan, Uzbekistan discuss cooperation

Negotiations on developing trade between Kazakstan and Uzbekistan were held in Tashkent on April 28th. Last year goods turnover between the two countries increased 44% totalling US$425.9m. The potential of both countries' economies permits increasing it up to US$1bn and stretching it to a higher level. The head of the delegation of Kazakstan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and Trade, Sauat Mynbayev, said recently that three protocols were expected to be signed in the course of the talks, Kazinform reported.
The protocols aim to secure favourable conditions for trade and investments between Kazakstan and Uzbekistan. Mynbayev stressed the free trade regime between the countries envisages withdrawals and restrictions. The point was to reduce the nomenclature and the number of withdrawals and restrictions.


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