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UZBEKISTAN


 

 

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)

Books on Uzbekistan


Update No: 324 - (19/12/07)

President is ‘home’ As if there had been any doubt.
Uzbekistan held presidential elections on December 23, with a predictable result. President Islam Karimov, who runs a police state governed by fear and has never held an election deemed free, glided to victory, though three other people were also candidates.
Karimov pledged to bring more democracy if re-elected. The three other presidential hopefuls were from pro-presidential parties and have never publicly criticized Karimov. They are Dilorom Tashmukhamedova from the Adolat party, Asliddin Rustamov from People's Democratic party, and Akmal Saidov, a parliamentary deputy.

The OSCE said it had sent an assessment mission to Uzbekistan that met Uzbek officials. It also met some representatives of civil society, who alleged that “regional governors as well as other election officials will make sure that the incumbent candidate is re-elected."

The country, many say, could experience a vicious power struggle once President Karimov, 69, departs. Unrest and a subsequent refugee crisis in Uzbekistan, which has the largest population of Central Asia’s five former Soviet states, could prove a destabilizing factor for the entire region.

A bloody dictator who has crushed all his opposition and engendered a climate of fear among his poverty-stricken population has won a third term, in defiance of his country’s constitution. This is not a worst-case scenario for Russia, but the reality in Uzbekistan, where on Dec. 23 Islam Karimov retained power after 18 years in charge. 
Karimov became the head of the Soviet republic of Uzbekistan in 1989 as first secretary of the local Communist Party. When the country gained independence, presidential elections were held in 1991 and he became the country’s first – and so far only – president. He should have been out by 2001 since the constitution allowed him to serve two five-year terms. But in 1995, he held a referendum, which extended his first term by five years, so when the time came for elections in 2000, he had the green light to run again. There was only one opposition candidate, Abdulhafiz Jalolov, who managed to garner a spectacular 4 percent of the vote, and even this was something of an achievement, given that, when asked, an embarrassed Jalolov said that he himself was backing Karimov and would be voting for him.

In 2002, the presidential term was extended to seven years, but then in January 2007, Karimov’s time was really was up. The solution was to pretend nothing was happening. Karimov went on and on, and nobody dared to mention the fact that his time in office had expired. Then, this month, an election was called for December, and the first name on the list was Islam Karimov. It turns out that the 2000 elections actually wiped the slate clean, meaning that his current term is actually his first, allowing him to run for a second term now. This is not a bad situation – Karimov has had 16 years as president and is running, while in Moscow poor Vladimir Putin is having to give it all up after a mere 8 years in power. “Nobody really expected any major differences between this election and the previous one,” said Saule Mukhametrakhimova, of the Central Asia Program of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in London. “The only small difference is that this time, there are more candidates standing.” But these candidates are only there to provide the faintest window dressing of democracy. “They don’t have any opposition agenda and they’re not meant to. They are not there to put up even a symbolic challenge,” said Mukhametrakhimova. “They are not expected to gain popularity, and in fact, if they started gaining any real popularity or looked like they might win votes, they’d probably get quite scared.”

“He’ll want to get at least 90 percent of the votes,” said Sanobar Shermatova, a Russia-based Uzbekistan expert. “There is unspoken competition between Karimov and [Kazakstan president] Nursultan Nazarbayev, and he won’t want to get a lower percentage than Nazarbayev did. ”If anyone needed a reminder of the unpleasant nature of the Uzbek authorities, there have been plenty in recent months. In September, Mark Weil, the well-known director of the Ilhom Theater Company in Tashkent was murdered the day before the start of his new season. The 55-year-old director, who had been with the theatre since 1976 when it was set up as the first independent theater in the Soviet Union, was stabbed by. two black-clad assassins. Weil was a world-renowned figure who took his actors on tour across the former Soviet Union and further afield. He was also a critic – albeit often a subtle one – of Islam Karimov and the state of contemporary Uzbek society.

Friends noted the irony of his theatre fighting the ideological stifling of the Soviet Union only to end up in the even more tightly controlled Uzbekistan of Karimov. His last words, from his hospital bed before he died, were apparently: “I’ll open the season tomorrow no matter what. ”Then, last month, 26-year-old ethnic Uzbek opposition journalist, Alisher Saipov, was killed in Osh, in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. But however poor the economic situation is currently, and however harsh the authorities are with their critics, analysts say it’s unlikely that there will be further unrest or Andijan-style demonstrations, even though discontent is high. “It’s not apathy, like in Kazakhstan, where people are more or less happy with Nazarbayev,” said Mukhametrakhimova. “People are scared. The dissatisfaction is higher than at previous elections but because there is such a fear, people are scared to express it.”

Shermatova, however, says that it’s difficult to gauge public opinion, but that on the whole, Uzbeks are not interested in politics. “When the country’s entire political system takes place in one office and in the mind of one person, how can people become engaged?” The West was quite happy to ignore numerous reports of torture and misrule in Uzbekistan, as the testimony of former British Ambassador to the country Craig Murray demonstrated. But after the massacre of protesters in Andijan in 
May 2005, human rights concerns at last outweighed political convenience and the uneasy friendship between the West and Karimov soured, to the point that U.S. airbases, so useful for the Afghanistan campaign, had to be abandoned.

While the EU, with Germany’s lead, recently removed a travel ban on top Uzbek officials and seems to be trying to quietly court Karimov again, there’s no doubting that Russia has the initiative. It’s been a key part of Putin’s policy towards former Soviet countries that as long as they show support for Russia, their leaders are never criticized for their authoritarian methods, however brutal they may be. Karimov is no exception to this rule. Two years ago, in the height of Western outrage over Andijan, Putin sneered off a question from an American reporter about Russian relations with Uzbekistan by simply saying, “We know what happened in Andijan better than you.”

Russia – and China as well – have been happy to go along with the official Uzbek version of Andijan as a terrorist insurgency that was successfully crushed, despite most eyewitness accounts contradicting this. Bilateral cooperation between the two countries has flourished through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (whose anti-terror arm is based in Tashkent) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which Uzbekistan withdrew from in 1999 only to rejoin in 2006. Economic links have also flourished. Gazprom has secured huge investments in Uzbekistan, which former Ambassador Murray claimed was due to behind the scenes dealings between Uzbek-born Alisher Usmanov, chair of Gazprominvestholding and Gulnara Karimova, the Uzbek president’s daughter. One of Viktor Zubkov’s first foreign trips as Russian prime minister was to a conference on Russian-Uzbek investment potential in Tashkent.“The things that the Uzbeks want most are investment, economic cooperation and military cooperation,” said Mukhametrakhimova. “If they are able to get this from Russia without the human rights and democracy strings attached, that makes things a lot easier for them 

A Routine Torture
The nature of the regime is revealed by the goings-on in Andijan, where in May 2005 several hundred were shot in a massacre that shocked the world. A third person in December died after being tortured in prison, a human rights organisation in Uzbekistan has said. Two other such deaths have been reported in the country in the past month, all linked to the same prison in the eastern town of Andijan.
There was no reaction from the Uzbek authorities, but they regularly deny any allegation of torture. Human rights groups say torture is routinely used against political and religious prisoners in Uzbekistan. 
The organisation reporting the latest death, the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan, told the BBC Uzbek service the body of the prisoner was returned to the family in a coffin, which they were told not to open.
About two weeks previously the body of another prisoner, Takhir Nurmukhamedov, was returned to his family from Andijan prison, with relatives now saying his buttocks had been burnt and his skull broken.
In November, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed extreme concern over allegations of widespread torture in Uzbekistan. The committee was responding to a report from Uzbekistan on its compliance with the UN convention prohibiting torture.

Murder of an Uzbek - Kyrgyz reporter
In his short career as a journalist in this Silk Road city in Kyrgyzstan’s south, Alisher Saipov gained a reputation for being driven, thorough, impassioned, brave and insatiably curious — though sometimes arrogant and abrasive. Above all, he was known for being outspoken. Colleagues, academics, diplomats and government officials described Mr. Saipov, 26, a former contract reporter for Voice of America and a Moscow-based Web site that focuses on news from Central Asia, Ferghana.ru, as one of the top reporters here, if not the best.
Mr. Saipov was renowned for his scoops and his extensive network of inside contacts, ranging from Islamic extremists to foreign ministers. For visiting journalists, including those from the BBC and The New York 
Times, Mr. Saipov’s offices were a required stop for a pot of green tea and a debriefing on the latest intricacies of the Ferghana Valley, the ethnically diverse geographic pocket that encompasses portions of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
But Mr. Saipov achieved a different sort of notoriety on October 24 when around 7 p.m., while waiting for a taxi with a friend on one of the main thoroughfares here, a gunman stepped out of the tree-lined darkness and shot him in the leg, according to news reports. When Mr. Saipov fell to the ground, the gunman fired two shots to his head. The shooting was apparently the first contract killing of a journalist in Kyrgyzstan, a country known for its relative media freedom compared with its authoritarian neighbors, and it sent shock waves through the region and beyond. The American Embassy in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, joined by the European Union and the British government, called for a thorough investigation of the “outrageous crime.” The Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, announced that he was taking personal responsibility for the inquiry.
Among many international observers and the country’s news media, primary suspicion has fallen on the Uzbek security services. Mr. Saipov, who was a Kyrgyz citizen and an ethnic Uzbek, was a well-known opponent of the government of the Uzbek president, Islam A. Karimov. His shooting, they maintain, is evidence of the long reach of the National Security Service of Uzbekistan, or S.N.B., using its Russian initials. Uzbekistan strives to suppress all opposition voices, even those outside the country. Although no proof has emerged of any Uzbek link, proponents of this theory say that they believe the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming.
Kyrgyzstan’s ombudsman for human rights, Tursunbai Bakiruulu, says he believes firmly that the S.N.B., Uzbek’s successor to the K.G.B., ordered Mr. Saipov’s death. “Logically there is only one scenario,” he said, though he conceded that he had no evidence.
The Kyrgyz-Uzbek border is porous, and Uzbek agents operate freely in Kyrgyzstan’s section of the Ferghana Valley, numerous specialists and diplomats interviewed for this article said.
In May 2005, after Uzbek government troops brutally suppressed an uprising and political demonstration in Andijan, refugees streamed over the border into southern Kyrgyzstan. According to witnesses, Uzbek agents in the immediate aftermath crossed the border, which is a few hours away by car, rounded up hundreds and sent them back. In mid-2006, five more political opponents to the Uzbek government who had taken refuge in Kyrgyzstan disappeared, international agencies like Human Rights Watch say, and they are feared to have been kidnapped and taken back to Uzbekistan.

Mr. Saipov commented critically on developments in Uzbekistan, and his killing, friends and analysts believe, may have been a direct result of his reporting. He was virtually alone among the Ferghana Valley press corps in writing regularly on torture in Uzbek prisons, the plight of the refugees and political unrest across the border.
“Alisher was killed because he was an Uzbek,” said Sultan Kanazarov, an independent journalist who used to work for Radio Free Europe and who said Mr. Saipov was a close friend. “He was the only one who wrote about Uzbekistan, and he never left the Ferghana Valley.”
Earlier this year, Mr. Saipov left Ferghana.ru and Voice of America to start a pan-regional Uzbek-language newspaper, Siyosat, which means politics. The weekly provided original reporting and reprints from news 
Web sites, and it was underwritten by a $26,500 grant from the National Endowment for Democracy, a Washington-based foundation.
Siyosat struck a visible nerve with the Uzbeks. Soon after Mr. Saipov began to publish, a public campaign began against him on Uzbekistan’s state-controlled television and Internet. One Uzbek Web site ran a piece titled “Saipov Is Traitorous Knife in the Back From Our Neighbour and Partner Kyrgyzstan.”
Mr. Saipov, in the weeks before his death, said he believed he was being trailed by Uzbek security services. He also said he had received warnings and told a number of colleagues that he had heard a rumour that Uzbek officials had placed a $10,000 bounty on his head. 
Colleagues say that they, too, have been followed in the past, and added that in the days before Mr. Saipov was killed, two unknown men were seen regularly around his offices.
“He said that he felt that the circle was tightening around him,” said Elmurad Jusupaliev, Mr. Saipov’s journalism teacher and a former business partner.
For the journalists, human rights workers and Uzbek opposition members living in southern Kyrgyzstan, given the brutal and public nature of Mr. Saipov’s shooting, the consensus is that he was killed to send a message to anyone interfering — or even thinking of getting involved — in Uzbek politics.

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