May 17, 2005



CNN reported on May 13 that Uzbek troops clashed with protesters.

Clashes between security forces and protesters in eastern Uzbekistan have left several people dead after supporters of people jailed on charges of Islamic extremism stormed a prison and freed inmates, reports say. ...

Later, more confrontations were reported by Galima Bukharbaeva, country director of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Uzbekistan, and the Russian news agency Interfax when Uzbek forces moved on people demonstrating in a public square. ...

Thousands had been demonstrating in Andijan, calling for the resignation of Uzbek President Islam Karimov and his government, who are allies of the United States. The president's office described them as criminals and extremists. ...

Radical Islamic militants have fought with Uzbek soldiers in the area for several years, but Bukharbaeva said the mostly young protesters, who have spoken over loudspeakers in the city center, denied they are connected to that rebel movement.

"They say they are not Islamic extremists. They are just ordinary people who are tired of unemployment, who are tired of injustice and they just want better living conditions," Bukharbaeva told CNN.

Today, The New York Times reports that Uzbeks Say Troops Shot Recklessly at Civilians.

Even as Uzbekistan's government maintained that it had acted cautiously and minimized the use of force in putting down a prison break and demonstration late last week, survivors said Monday that government security forces had fired indiscriminately at unarmed civilians and struck women and children. ...

Details of the crackdown and the violence that has intermittently occurred in its aftermath have been sketchy and contradictory, and movement through the areas where the most intense violence occurred has largely been restricted. Telephone and Internet service have been inconsistent or not operating.

The Uzbek government has blamed those who stormed the prison for the violence, and described the heavy response as necessary. But unverified accounts have said hundreds have been killed in several outbreaks of violence, mostly instigated by government action. ...

Mr. Karimov placed blame for the unrest on Islamic extremist groups, a label that he has used to describe political opponents in recent years and that his critics say is used as a pretext for maintaining a repressive state.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Uzbek authorities deny troops killed civilians.

"Not a single civilian was killed by government forces there," Prosecutor-General Rashid Kadyrov told reporters in the capital Tashkent. "There are absolutely absurd statements that troops opened fire on peaceful demonstrators. A number of news organisations focused on the shooting and used made-up facts on the number of casualties such as the number 500 (of dead)."

He branded the people who took part in the rebellion "terrorists" and said almost all of those killed either had guns in their hands or were nearby. "Only bandits were killed," he said.

Gateway Pundit has been following the story closely and has many links, photos and videos (see here, here, here, here, here, here), including these IWPR reports: No Requiem for the Dead and Andijan Survivors Speak of Ambush. From the latter:

“We listened to the statements for a long time. No one wanted to leave the demonstration. There were no police forces to be seen. But at around 4 pm everything changed. Suddenly armoured troop carriers appeared in the central square and started shooting randomly at people.

“There were a lot of children and youngsters near the demonstrators, and many of them were the first to be hit. Panic broke out, people started running in different directions to escape the bullets.

While exactly what has transpired over the last few days in Uzbekistan is murky, it's clear that Karimov has used his ally-status in the war on terror as a justification for his repression. Robert Tracinski at TIA Daily recently pointed to two good editorials. The first from The Daily Telegraph (free registration required): America must ditch the tyrant of Tashkent.

Uzbekistan is different. Other post-Soviet dictators could see when the game was up. The autocrats of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan were unwilling to plunge their countries into full-scale civil war; faced with populations in open revolt, they surrendered. But Islam Karimov, the tyrant of Tashkent, shows no sign of going quietly. ...

Living standards have collapsed since the days of the USSR, while restrictions on travel have been imposed to prevent the population from picking up dangerous ideas. Karimov's men have already massacred dozens of protesters, and are evidently ready to carry on shooting.

The president's implacability is partly explained by the attitude of the US State Department. The Americans sponsored opposition movements in Georgia and Ukraine, and Congress recently voted a $40 million grant for pro-democracy activists in Belarus. But when it comes to Uzbekistan, Washington is shamefully equivocal. The Administration is calling for restraint on both sides, even though there is ample evidence that the security forces have been firing into unarmed crowds.

Uzbekistan sits oddly with the rest of George W. Bush's foreign policy. Elsewhere, his Administration has taken the view that the best way to advance American interests is by spreading freedom. Yet Karimov is indulged in an old-fashioned, Cold War sort of way: "He's a son-of-a-bitch, but he's our son-of-a-bitch".

The second editorial is from The Weekly Standard: Getting Uzbekistan Wrong.

The bottom line in Uzbekistan is simple and obvious. The people of the Ferghana Valley have Kyrgyzstan next door, just as Wahhabi-ruled Saudi Arabia has newly liberated Iraq next door, and just as 25 years ago, the Soviet Union had Poland next door. Uzbekistan is the most populous and developed of the former-Soviet Central Asian republics. Of all these states, it has the most in common with Ukraine and Georgia, even more than Kyrgyzstan had. The appeal of radical Islam in Uzbekistan is highly overrated; the resentment of local bazaar merchants against unjust taxation and other abuses in the Ferghana Valley is not. It's time for the Uzbeks to definitively join the democracy movement and leave the Soviet era, with its bloodshed and lies, behind.

And yesterday The New York Times had more about Uzbek President Islam Karimov: Uzbekistan Shaken by Unrest, Violence and Uncertainty.

Mr. Karimov, an inaccessible and aloof autocrat, has long been criticized for persecution of opponents, intolerance of freedom of religion and expression, and the use of the police and torture, including the sexual assault and boiling of suspects.

His control had been almost absolute. He was last re-elected in 2000, with 91.7 percent of the vote, an election generally regarded as fixed.

His style has also fueled worries about the government's conduct. The reported violence over the past three days, emerging from a near information vacuum, has been chilling in part because Mr. Karimov has long made clear that in maintaining order, he has a high tolerance for blood.

"I am prepared to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, in order to save peace and calm in the republic," he told reporters in 1999, after a bus hijacking ended with a shootout that left nine people dead. "If my child chose such a path, I myself would rip off his head."

Mr. Karimov also has strengthened his relationship with the United States, as the interests of two nations have increasingly intertwined.

Hardened elements of his opposition, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, collaborated with Al Qaeda and trained in camps in Afghanistan. After the attacks in the United States in 2001, the Karimov government presented itself as a Bush administration partner in counterterrorism efforts, and the Pentagon opened a base in southern Uzbekistan. ...

Nonetheless, signs of strain in the relationship have emerged since 2003, as uprisings have toppled corrupt post-Soviet governments in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, isolating the Uzbek president.

Mr. Karimov, speaking at a news conference on Saturday as journalists reported seeing blood-stained streets and full morgues, made an oblique but unmistakable reference to American interference.

"Attempts by some countries to plant democracy in Central Asia can be used by a third force," he said, according to RIA Novosti. He added, "This force is radical Islam."

Finally, Glenn Reynolds has more information and commentary.

UPDATE I -- May 18: Gateway Pundit has the latest: Death Toll Climbs in Andijan Massacre.

UPDATE II: From The New York Times: Under Pressure, Uzbek President Raises Death Toll From Clashes.

Uzbekistan acknowledged Tuesday that its crackdown last week on an antigovernment demonstration and a prison break had been far more violent than it previously described, saying 169 people had been killed, including 32 government troops. ...

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Bush administration had raised its concerns about the crackdown on dissidents with the Uzbek government.

"Nobody is asking any government to deal with terrorists," she said Tuesday evening at a news conference in Washington. "That's not the issue. The issue, though, is that it is a society that needs openness, it needs to reform, and again, I think if you look at the record, we have raised that with the government of Karimov for quite some time." ...

Mr. Karimov has said the violence and public actions were planned by Islamic extremists and coordinated from outside Uzbekistan, a characterization that survivors have said is an argument of convenience to justify the crackdown.

The two sides ultimately clashed on Friday, witnesses said, when troops moved on the central square in Andijon to disperse the crowds, and a battle began. There were then reports that Uzbek refugees had been shot at as they moved northward to the border with Kyrgyzstan on Saturday.

Hundreds of Uzbeks fleeing the violence have sought shelter in Kyrgyzstan. A United Nations official said 490 refugees had registered for asylum so far. ...

"There is not one world leader who would shoot at an unarmed populace," he said. "I consider this a tragedy for Uzbekistan. Our people have died."

He said that he felt pain no less than that of parents who had lost children, but that he was also very proud that stability was returning to Andijon. "In Andijon today there is full order," he said.

UPDATE III -- May 19: From The New York Times: Tales of Uzbek Violence Suggest Larger Tragedy.

One by one the women gave their tally. Chased by gunfire, Mokhidilla Muladzhanova left behind three children, ages 15, 8 and 6. Noila Jumabayeva left behind two, ages 2 and 1. Rano Redzhapova left behind five, including 12-year-old twins.

Perhaps the most agonizing bit of ill fortune befell Zulkhumar Muminova and Nasibullo, her 3-year-old boy. He almost made it.

Ms. Muminova said she and the child survived hours of violence last Friday when the government of Uzbekistan used gunfire to disperse a prison break and antigovernment rally in the city of Andijon. And she said she managed to keep together with the boy and her four other children during an all-night trek toward the Kyrgyz border.

But just short of safety, she and several witnesses said, the Uzbek authorities fired on them anew. "All the people ran in different directions," she said. "And I lost him, my son. I have not seen him again."

UPDATE IV -- May 23: The latest accounting, from The New York Times: Toe Tags Offer Clues to Uzbeks' Uprising.

The few hours of defiance culminated, the survivors say, in a desperate push by hundreds and perhaps thousands of Uzbek citizens, marching and crawling before the firing soldiers, some chanting "freedom" as people died around them.

Posted by Forkum at May 17, 2005 04:54 PM