The political climate of Central Asia has become so supportive of Uzbek President Islam Karimov that it's impossible to criticize the killing of protesters in Andijan, the Kyrgyz Foreign Minister says.
In an interview, Roza Otunbayeva suggested that she doesn't necessarily share the opinion of the leaders of Russia, China and Central Asian countries who will gather tomorrow for a meeting of the Shanghai Co-operation Organization.
Members of the group have closed ranks around Uzbekistan in the days before the meeting, declaring their support for Mr. Karimov and his bloody crackdown on May 13 that left hundreds of corpses in the streets.
Kyrgyzstan will remain silent on the issue. "We are very much committed to human rights," Ms. Otunbayeva said. "But sometimes the realpolitik is very tough."
As leaders from Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan prepared for the two-day meeting in the Kazakhstani capital of Astana, several of them clearly signalled their intention to warmly welcome Mr. Karimov.
Foreign ministers from each country scrupulously avoided criticizing the Andijan events during a meeting on June 4 to set an agenda for the summit, focusing instead on plans to set parameters for joint anti-terrorism operations and sharing lists of terrorists in the region.
On Friday, the Chinese official leading the Shanghai group told a news conference in Beijing that China believes Uzbekistan was defending itself against terrorism.
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered a similar view on Tuesday, as he welcomed the Uzbek leader at his home outside Moscow.
In the shadow of such major powers, the fledging, post-revolutionary Kyrgyz government cannot argue publicly, Ms. Otunbayeva said.
"We have a difference of opinion," she acknowledged, but added: "In this region, we are eternal neighbours. It's a difficult path. We face all sorts of problems."
"What happened in my country, the revolution of [March] 24, I do appreciate that none of our neighbours have been involved in our internal affairs. They didn't try to save Akayev as their comrade," she said, referring to former Kyrgyz president Askar Akayev, who fled to Russia during this spring's Tulip Revolution.
"You can talk about our braveness or not. But many countries, which are far away from Uzbekistan, they didn't express their opinion at all. They were very mildly critical, very mildly reflecting on these events."
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