Books on Uzbekistan
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: 280- (29/04/04)
Regime in crisis
The day of reckoning for the Uzbek regime may have arrived at last. Certainly a grave crisis has erupted. It has been long in preparation. A spate of militant attacks in Tashkent has killed upwards of 40 people, with suicide bombers to the fore. During the period, March 28-31, 14 civilians, 10 police officers and at least 33 militants were killed. The prime suspects behind the late March violence are two known radical groups, Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, active throughout the Central Asian region.
Bush's recent vows to pursue a "forward strategy of freedom" in the Islamic world are in the spotlight as a close ally, Uzbek President Karimov, comes under attack by human rights groups.
Despite Western pressure, Karimov has outlawed opposition parties, harassed and imprisoned dissidents, and, despite his own promises, failed to take meaningful steps to stop the routine use of torture against perceived opponents. Scores of dissidents have been executed after sham trials.
Islam Karimov, Dictator of Uzbekistan
Karimov's most recent display of resistance to opening meaningful political space for the opposition - or even for civil-society groups - came recently when his government blocked the holding of a conference on the death penalty in Tashkent.
The embarrassment in riches
President Karimov has aligned his country squarely behind the US since 9:11, although Uzbekistan was already a bulwark in the anti-terrorist campaign beforehand. He is a paranoid nutcase who has fomented the very eventuality he dreads by his excessively repressive policies. Opponents are boiled alive, arousing the indignation of foreigners, notably UK ambassador, Craig Murray, who is radically belying the definition of a diplomat made by his sixteenth century compatriot, Sir Henry Wotton, that one such is "someone sent abroad to lie there for the sake of his country." He has been fearlessly outspoken in his denunciation of the human rights abuses of the regime.
Islamic militancy has been outlawed, but in such a savage manner as to encourage a stream of martyrs to come forward. What better way for a true Muslim to die and be assured of his seventy virgins in the afterlife than by taking up arms against the infamous infidel in charge in Tashkent with his evil henchmen, singing their Satanic verses in tune with the Great Satan itself, The US.
International human rights groups, along with a significant number of political analysts, argue that the regime's rigid control over every aspect of life in the country was a major factor in provoking the militant attacks. The government naturally totally denies this and blames foreign conspirators entirely.
It has reacted predictably by tightening control over domestic media, while lashing out at foreign outlets that challenge the official version of events. The lack of press freedom was cited as a contributing factor in the recent decision of the EBRD to cancel several projects in the republic.
Afghanistan looms large
What keeps the regime happy is that the US remains on board, immensely keen to keep its new base on the southern border with Afghanistan, where things have not been going too well for coalition forces recently. Indeed the Afghan warlord of Uzbek origin, Rashid Dostum, has been making inroads in the north, which can only make the job of President Karshai more difficult.
The US is only too likely to put geopolitical considerations first in Central Asia, keeping up its subvention of $90 million or so per annum to Tashkent. If it is proving pretty difficult to introduce democracy to Iraq, the cradle of human civilisation, how much more difficult it would be in Uzbekistan, the home territory of Timur the Lame, scourge of much of the known world.
Uzbekistan records 8.1% rise in grain harvest
Uzbekistan harvested 6.262m tonnes of grain, including rice and corn, in 2003, up 8.1% from 5.792m tonnes in 2002, figures published by the government statistics department showed, New Europe reported recently.
The gross harvest of cereal grains, in bunkerweight, rose 6.7% to 5.78m tonnes, from 5.42m tonnes in 2002. Production increased to 5.612m tonnes of wheat, from 5.183m tonnes in 2002; and to 311,200 tonnes of rice, from 185,600 tonnes; but fell to 164,800 tonnes of barley, from 235,500 tonnes; to 142,900 tonnes of grain maize, from 147,100 tonnes; and to 31,400 tonnes for other crops, from 41,400 tonnes.
The grain crop area was expanded by 16.7% in 2003, or by 255,600 hectares to 1.789m hectares. The wheat crop expanded by 224,600 hectares, or 17.5% to 1.507m hectares, and the rice crop increased by 54,800 hectares, or 85.1% to 119,200 hectares.
Uzbekenergo invests US$150m in grid upgrade
Uzbek state Energy Company, Uzbekenergo, plans to invest about US$150m in grid modernisation over the next five years, a source in the company said, Interfax News Agency reported recently.
The source said that it is planned to use these funds to modernise substations and other grid infrastructure. The project will be financed by credits from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) amounting to US$70m and US$49m respectively, and also Uzbekenergo funds amounting to US$29m. Tender documentation is currently being prepared for the modernisation project and a turn-key tender should be announced in the second half of this year. The project should be completed in 2008. The Asian Development Bank provided Uzbekistan and Tajikistan with credits of US$70m and US$20m respectively last year to modernise electricity supply systems in these countries. The aim of the project is to create favourable conditions for electricity trade between countries in Central Asia. At the moment the energy systems in Kazakstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are connected to form the Central Asian Energy System. Uzbekistan produces over half of the total electricity in this system. Uzbekenergo plants account for over 97% of the electricity produced in Uzbekistan. Electricity production in the republic in 2003 increased 0.2 to 49.399bn kWh, including 47.89bn kWh at Uzbekenergo plants - the same as in 2002.
Five textile JVs emerge in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan recently launched five textile joint ventures worth a total of US$56.3m, a source in the state-run joint stock company Uzbeklegprom said, Interfax News Agency reported. The five enterprises are capable of exporting US$64m worth of products a year, he said. Uzbekistan plans to invest over US$1bn in the textile industry and increase the yield of final products in the industry's total output to 50% before 2005. Forty enterprises are to be re-equipped or constructed in order to increase the amount of cotton fibre processed in 2005 to 469,100 tonnes and the textile exports to over US$650m.
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