Republican Reference - Area (sq.km) 447,400 - Population 28,128,600 - Capital Tashkent - Currency Uzbek Sum (UZS) - President Islam Karimov - Principal ethnic groups Uzbeks 71.4%, Russians 8.3%, Tajiks 4.7%, Kazaks 4.1%

uzbekistan

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2012 2009 2008 Ranking(2012)
GDP
Millions of US $ 51,113 32,817 27,934 74
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,720 1,100 910 160
Ranking is given out of 213 nations - (date from the World Bank)
  

Background:
Before Tsarist Russian moved in during the 19th Century, this large territory was a medieval Kharate. Russia installed a military gubernate from Tashkent to rule all of the Central Asian 'stans that later were set up by Communist planners in Moscow.  Uzbekistan has easily the largest population of any of them, at twenty five million.  Following the Blohevik revolution in Russia stiff resistance to the Red Army was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic set up in 1924. During the Soviet era, intensive production of 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 terrorism by Islamic militants, economic stagnation, and the curtailment of human rights and democratization.  The US interaction in Afghanistan following 9/11, brought military co-operation with being as the US now have a base in this country.  Uzbeks are fond of the fact that Tambulaine, the 15th Century conqueror would have his capital at Samarkand, which city, together with Kokaan and Bokkara, are perhaps the worlds last great tourist attraction, as yet under fulfilled. 

Update No: 387 - (26/11/13)

Summary: Uzbekistan saw no change in its appalling human rights record in 2013, and a UN meeting on torture turned into a fiasco with the Uzbek delegate rubbishing proceedings. As ageing President Islam Karimov continues to hold on to power - alienating Uzbekistan from its neighbours and potential trading partners - the question of who will take over when he dies or falls ill is becoming more urgent. The president's daughter, widely seen as his obvious successor, has fallen out of favour and the playing field is opening up. But for the time being, it seems that China is Central Asia's greatest hope for building relations between Karimov and his neighbours.

2013 saw no improvement in Uzbekistan's human rights record. Uzbekistan ratified the UN Convention Against Torture in 1995 but has failed to make any headway under authoritarian president Islam Karimov, who has led the country since it gained independence in 1991. A UN review of the measures Uzbekistan has adopted to prevent and punish torture, which was held on October 30, turned into a fiasco when the Uzbek delegate became angry and defensive. During the proceedings, Akmal Saidov, Chairman of the National Human Rights Centre in Tashkent, started yelling and banging his fists on the table, saying that the information presented by the UN was biased and untrue.

The UN Committee Against Torture expressed grave concern about reports of widespread torture in Uzbekistan, including allegations of illegal detentions and forced exile of civil and human rights activists, and commonplace ill treatment of detainees. Experts also raised the issue of forced labour and the use of child labour, especially during the cotton-picking season. Enraged, Saidov accused the committee of making a politically motivated assessment and of not taking into consideration information provided by the Uzbek government. (It was never like this he might have thought, back in the good ol' days of the USSR).

The two sides were clearly at an impasse and Julia Hall of Amnesty International, who was present at the session, said that the Uzbek delegation was unable to respond to virtually any of the questions posed by the committee.

In addition to continuing abuses of human rights, Uzbekistan has also made no effort to improve freedom of information. In a report issued on October 3, US-based watchdog Freedom House, said that Uzbekistan (along with Iran, Belarus and Pakistan) has the least internet freedom of the 60 countries it looked at. Journalists critical of the government are still harassed, arrested or harmed and all publications are still subject to the whims of the authorities. However, the biggest censorship battle of 2013 involved the eldest daughter of President Islam Karimov, Gulnara Karimova, who, until recently, had been widely seen as her father's successor.

Over the course of November and October several television stations closely and directly affiliated with Karimova were taken off air. They were: Uzbekistan's Nongovernmental Television Network (NTT), owned by the Terra Group (closely associated with Karimova); and three popular FM radio stations and four television stations belonging to the Terra Group holding company, all of which are directly controlled by Karimova. The bank accounts of the Terra Group were frozen due to "financial wrongdoing" and at least two organisations with ties to Karimova, including her Fund Forum charity and the Centre for Political Studies think tank, came under investigation for alleged tax fraud.

Karimova also suffered personal setbacks in 2013. Her cousin, Akbarali Abdullaev, a powerful oil broker in Uzbekistan's fertile, populous Ferghana Valley and a close personal ally, was arrested in October on suspicion of operating an organised crime ring. Karimova's younger sister, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, told the BBC's Uzbek Service that she and her sister had not spoken in 12 years and that there were "no family or friendly relations" between them. Karimova then accused her sister of embezzlement and of befriending "sorcerers." She also expressed worries that their mother, Tatiana Karimova, is dabbling in satanic rituals and blamed her mother, her aunt, and her cousin, for the "mess in the province of Ferghana," which is thought to be controlled by the purse-strings of the Karimov family.

These events have bruised Karimova's political ambitions. On November 4, she accused the chief of the country's National Security Service of blocking her path to the presidency and, although her father, now 75, shows no signs of stepping down, the question of who would take on the presidency should he fall ill or die is pertinent. The assault on Karimova is widely seen as a direct order from the president himself and the question of his succession has been raised, with at least three top officials - Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev, Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov, and secret-police chief Rustam Inoyatov - believed to be vying for the position.

Karimova may be the only person who could offer her father, and the family overall, protection from criminal prosecution once her father gives up his post or dies. The prospect of the presidency going to someone other than a Karimov has sparked both hopes of reforms and fears of chaos, but according to activist Tadjibaeva, one thing is certain: "No matter who comes in, the first order of business will be to take revenge on the Karimovs."

The president's iron grip on power has made him hard to handle in the international arena as well as at home. Mistrusted by his neighbours, Islam Karimov has made it almost impossible to achieve any kind of coherent economic or military strategy in Central Asia. Uzbekistan is pivotal in the region - with the greatest population and a shared border with Afghanistan - yet disputes between Tashkent and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in particular have led to power shortages in an energy-rich region and inadvertently facilitated the flow of drugs and militant extremists to Russia. The only country remotely confident of making Central Asia work for itself is China.

China is working fast to secure energy investment and contracts in Central Asia to feed its increasing thirst for oil and gas. But even though insecurity within the 'Stans, and fighting between them has created obstacles for Beijing - making it hard to agree on pipelines and railway projects that cut across borders - regional analysts say that China remains confident there is no problem that can't be solved by throwing money at it. In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping conducted a tour of Central Asia to that effect. Over 10 days, Xi signed bilateral contracts in the tens of billions of dollars, getting 'Stans that won't deal with each other to bow down to the Yuan. For instance, Xi made gains to expand a Central Asia-China gas pipeline that would bind Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, countries with which it is barely on speaking terms. In 2013, Uzbekistan cut supplies of its own natural gas to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan whilst Uzbek and Kyrgyz troops fought near their disputed border. For years, Tajik and Uzbek leaders have been at loggerheads over Tajikistan's plans to build the world's tallest hydroelectric dam, which Tashkent says will prevent the irrigation of Uzbekistan's farmland. Tashkent's relationship with Turkmenistan is no warmer.

Xi's visit ended at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Kyrgyzstan - a Beijing-and-Moscow-led club that includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - and rather than talking vaguely about "integration", as usually happens at these summits, China was able to move on with concrete plans. Such pipeline links represent "actual integration - giving the region's governments each a stake in multinational projects," said Bobo Lo, a regional analyst at Chatham House. Beijing "knows that what really counts is strengthening its relationships with the individual countries," ensuring its interests take precedence over internecine disagreements, Lo said.

Yet these conflicts, and the broader security problems that two decades of poor governance and non-cooperation among the Central Asian states have given rise to, continue to make it difficult for any outside power to effectively do business in the region. Central Asia will likely become even more volatile when NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 and there is also a threat of significant unrest in Uzbekistan if there is a change of leadership there, which due to 'anno domini' is bound to be on the way.

 

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