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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: 362 - (26/02/11)

Islam forever
President Karimov of Uzbekistan has a fortunate first name, Islam.

He is a post-communist hack, but he can impersonate the personality of a devout follower of Islam, which of course he is not. But many of his countrymen are.

Whether he goes to mosque every week is a closely guarded-state secret. Probably not; but who is to know?

Powerful backers abroad
Despite running a most repressive regime, Karimov has powerful backers abroad, who regard doing business with the most central and populous of Central Asian states as a distasteful necessity.

The US and Russia have long been in this category, Washington for assistance in waging war in Afghanistan, while Moscow does not believe in being squeamish in foreign policy. For both, realpolitik is the order of the day.

The EU joins up too
They have now been joined by the EU, which has huge interests in Central Asia, as in Eurasia as a whole, of which the former is an integral part. Untold riches and markets are at stake. If the US and Russia are not being fussy in these matters, why should the Europeans be? More especially as regime change is rarely, if ever, brought about by remote foreign disapproval.

President Karimov was on his first official visit to Brussels in late January since the European Union lifted sanctions against his government last year. The sanctions were imposed in 2005 after the brutal suppression by the government of a popular uprising in the Uzbek city of Andijan.

International rights groups have been urging the EU to raise the issue of human rights with the Uzbek leader. News of his visit sparked uproar among activists and Uzbek dissidents abroad. Many have expressed concern that the president of the European Commission and the head of NATO are meeting the leader of a country that has one of the worst human rights records in the world.

EU officials said before the meeting that the Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, would discuss human rights with Mr Karimov. But action, not words, is of course the key. But of this, there was no sign.

In a report issued in February, the New York-based Human Rights Watch accused the EU of "an obsequious approach towards Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan." Gas-rich Turkmenistan has an authoritarian government intolerant of dissent, like its neighbour Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan did not allow any independent investigation into the Andijan shootings. EU statements of concern on human rights are "often not backed by a comprehensive strategy for change", said Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organisation. The sanctions against the government of Mr Karimov were lifted two years ago.

Notorious crackdown
There had been a travel ban for top Uzbek officials as well as an arms embargo, following the 2005 mass protests in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan.

Government troops reportedly opened fire on mainly unarmed protesters. Rights groups claimed that almost 1,000 people were killed. The Uzbek authorities put the number of dead at 187 but never allowed an independent investigation into the events.

Uzbekistan's relationship with the West did change for a while following the Andijan uprising. Dozens of Uzbeks were jailed, while several hundred sought sanctuary in Europe. Western NGOs and media were expelled from the country.

Dispute over sanctions
But in recent years there has been something of a thaw in relations.

The country borders Afghanistan and plays an increasingly important role as a transit country for NATO non-military cargo. Mr Karimov will hold talks with NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen.” I think... it will be possible for me to strike the right balance to discuss human rights and democracy and at the same time practical co-operation on transit facilities and other elements in practical co-operation that can be to the benefit of our operation in Afghanistan," Mr Rasmussen said.

Human Rights Watch criticised the EU for softening its policy "even though the Uzbek government took no steps to fulfil any of the EU criteria required for lifting the sanctions".

Ahead of the Brussels talks, Amnesty International wrote to Mr Barroso, urging him to raise human rights issues with Mr Karimov. It said human rights defenders and independent journalists "are continuously subjected to harassment, beatings and detention without fair trial" in Uzbekistan. On Andijan, Amnesty said "international pressure urgently needs to be reasserted". Amnesty said the EU should call for Uzbekistan to "allow an investigation as a matter of urgency".

It also urged the EU to install an official delegation in the Uzbek capital Tashkent to monitor the situation, with a special focus on human rights. But nothing is likely to come of any of this. Realpolitik was after all invented in Europe a long time ago, before the US existed or Russia counted.

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