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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
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: 356 - (26/08/10)

Who really rules in Tashkent?
Rumours abound that President Islam Karimov is on his last legs and about to expire. But these have abounded for years. Yet he is still upright, at least physically, and there are plenty of signs he is firmly in charge.

There is a power game going on in Tashkent for all that. Three months after the assets of Uzbekistan's largest foreign investor, Zeromax, were seized by the State Security Service, mystery still surrounds the motive behind the move.

Zeromax is widely understood to have links with Gulnara Karimova, President Karimov's daughter and Uzbekistan's richest woman with an estimated fortune of $570m. One theory is that the asset grab was part of a power struggle between Karimova and Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev, who has been the driving force for a series of attacks on successful local entrepreneurs this year. Karimova's earlier appointment as Uzbekistan's ambassador to Spain indicates she is most likely planning a future outside the country.

More prosaically, Zeromax had become increasingly loaded with an estimated $500m of debt as it was forced, like other successful Uzbek businesses, to act as a banker to failing state enterprises. Signs the company was struggling financially came earlier this year when plans to build a $150m stadium for its football club Bunyodkor were abandoned. Bunyodkor also let go Luiz Felipe Scolari, the former Chelsea manager it had hired at vast expense less than a year earlier. The government found that Zeromax wasn't paying a lot of taxes, speculates one local entrepreneur. "The background of the company was really strong, but the state decided to punish them in the struggle against all strong local businessmen."

Yet there is another explanation - that Tashkent moved against Zeromax under pressure from Russia. While relations have warmed between Russia and Uzbekistan recently, Russian oil majors are understood to have resented Zeromax's dominance within the Uzbek economy, where its tentacles stretch across sectors from oil and gas to agriculture to textiles. There are rumours that after the asset seizure, 51% of Zeromax's shares were transferred to Uzbekistan's state energy company Uzbekneftegaz - the remaining 49% to an unnamed Russian.

Tashkent hosts Central Asian summit with Japan
Meanwhile, foreign relations in other directions must be kept up. Uzbekistan chaired a meeting of five of the former Soviet Central Asian nations with Japan, which opened on July 31. This was the first such meeting of Central Asian foreign ministers with Japan's foreign minister since 2004. The meeting's agenda included discussions on regional security and advancement of various economic programmes.

Japan has made considerable investment in the Central Asian countries. According to the European Union, Uzbekistan exported 66.8 million euros' worth of goods to Japan in 2009. In May, Uzbekistan signed a $300 million loan agreement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

President Karimov took part in an informal summit of the heads of state of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) on July 31 in Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan. This rather indicates that he is still the boss.

Karimov firmly articulated Uzbekistan's position against deploying a CSTO base in southern Kyrgyzstan, saying it was not in the interests of regional security. Yet it was Tashkent that proposed deployment of the Police Advisory Group of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The 52-person unarmed police presence is still not fully deployed and faces opposition from local officials in southern Kyrgyzstan, who have even ominously claimed they cannot guarantee its security. While the CSTO declined to send peace-keepers to quell riots in southern Kyrgyzstan in June, the security body promised equipment to assist the Kyrgyz police, but it has not yet been delivered.

Kyrgyzstan's Interim President Roza Otunbayeva has acknowledged that Kyrgyz security forces abused the rights of minority Uzbeks during the June conflict, including in a police sweep of the village of Nariman. The admission comes following allegations from rights groups and the United Nations that Kyrgyz security forces targeted Uzbeks after the riots.

On August 2, a Kyrgyz national commission set up by presidential decree began investigating the violence in the south. Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun told RFE/RL that he is performing his own investigation with another commission made up of 13 people from different ethnic groups, including Uzbeks. Akun said he will make the results of his inquiry know by September 30, i.e. before the October parliamentary elections. Finnish MP Kimmo Kiljunen, who is heading up an international investigation at the request of Otunbayeva, visited Moscow and Geneva in a quest for more support for his inquiry, which reportedly would not be completed before the elections.

The UN has not formally responded to Otunbayeva's request on July 21 for participation in the international inquiry. A Security Council meeting August 5 with a briefing by Ambassador Miroslav Jenca of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia produced only a weak compromise statement indicating general support for the diplomatic efforts of the Centre.

Faced with lack of justice at home, tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks are departing from Kyrgyzstan for Russia, Kazakhstan, and other neighbouring countries, EurasiaNet reports. Their desperation has proven fertile ground for rampant bribe-taking from various officials who demand extensive paperwork before authorizing departure.

Tashkent is expanding its de-facto trade embargo against Dushanbe, levying new tariffs for trucks crossing the border, and continuing to delay train freight bound for Tajikistan. With freight delayed for seven months, Tajik businesses have suffered losses, and the government is worried about its long-term economic impact. Freight destined for Afghanistan for U.S. and NATO operations is also delayed.

In response to increasing international coverage of the problem of forced sterilizations in Uzbekistan, the state-sponsored media is fighting back with a series of propagandistic pieces portraying generous maternal policies in Uzbekistan, claiming the government is promoting maternal health care and is reducing the number of abortions. The government boasted of a $5 million program to supply vitamins to pregnant women, and also said that the number of abortions has been reduced by a factor of five since 1990, with more than 60 percent of women of fertile age using intrauterine devices (IUDs).

Yet in reporting on its progress, the government failed to indicate just how many women had undergone "surgical contraception" as sterilization is known. And in describing a policy of only offering the procedure voluntarily with the consent of a woman and her spouse, the government only further revealed that women are not free to make their own reproductive decisions. NGOs report that doctors in fact have received verbal orders to increase the number of sterilizations, and urge women to find ways to avoid telling their spouses, who have been known to abandon women who have opted for sterilization. The Expert Working Group and other local NGOs in Uzbekistan have also reported that women have been forced to undergo the procedure, or have had their reproductive organs removed without their knowledge when undergoing surgery.

Some activists fear that under cover of his newly-burnished reputation -- even if deserved for his temporary housing of those fleeing pogroms in Kyrgyzstan -- President Karimov has sanctioned a concerted crackdown on his domestic critics. It is too early to tell whether there are more court cases than usual in violation of basic international standards for freedom of speech and association, but they have continued steadily in recent months.


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