Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Islamist claims control of Uzbek town
The leader of a group of rebels claiming to control this Uzbek border town said Wednesday that he and his supporters intend to build an Islamic state and were ready to fight if government troops attempt to crush their revolt.
"We will be building an Islamic state here in accordance with the Quran," Bakhtiyor Rakhimov told The Associated Press while leaning down from the back of a horse.
Tense but confident, the bearded 42-year-old farmer, wearing a traditional Uzbek embroidered black-and-white skull cup, snapped his fingers as he gave orders to an assistant. It was unclear how many people he commanded, but there was no sign of any Uzbek government officials in the town of about 20,000.
"The town is in the hands of people. People are tired of slavery," he said as he kept an eye on two roads converging at an intersection in Korasuv.
However, Uzbek Interior Minister Zakir Almatov shrugged off the militant's claims.
"It's all sheer nonsense, everything is normal there," he said when asked whether the government intends to move against insurgents in Korasuv. "If anything had happened there, I already would have been there."
President Islam Karimov blamed the unrest in Andijan on extremist Islamic groups that seek to overthrow his secular government and create an Islamic state.
At the Andijan protest, only social and economic demands could be heard as speaker after speaker complained about stark poverty and widespread unemployment and the government's stifling of private business. They denied having any Islamic agenda.
But observers of the impoverished Central Asia region have long feared that any social unrest could be used by Islamic groups to promote their own goals.
It's hard to know what to make of this, but we suspect Rakhimov is an opportunist with no connection to the Andijan protesters.