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Saturday, July 02, 2005


Uzbek opposition asks for Western aid

From Radio Free Europe:

A leading Uzbek opposition figure, Muhammad Solih, is urging the United States and the European Union to expand their support for democracy activists in Uzbekistan. Solih says the events in Andijon in May demonstrate that democratization is the only way to ensure a peaceful transition in power from the regime of President Islam Karimov. But a U.S. State Department official says Washington does not want to be seen as an agent for revolutionary change in the region and is working with all parties to bring about gradual reforms.

"We do not ask for a lot from the West," Solih said. "We want the West to aid the legalization of political parties in Uzbekistan. We would like the West to aid the leaders of the opposition to function in Uzbekistan, to ensure the conduct of fair elections in Uzbekistan and the participation of the opposition in those elections and to ensure the existence of a free press. This in and of itself is enough to ensure the peaceful removal of this anti-democratic regime."

Solih announced that some key Uzbek opposition leaders have united and formed a new group -- the United Uzbek Democratic Coalition -- to press their cause. Solih was named their head.

The State Department's deputy assistant secretary for Europe, Eurasia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus is Matthew Bryza. He told RFE/RL on 30 June that the United States remains intent on guiding democratic reforms in Uzbekistan. But he made clear that Washington is not planning to focus its interests on opposition activists despite concerns over the actions of the Karimov government.

Bryza said Solih's visit to Washington was coincidental and did not reflect new ties with the Uzbek opposition.

"We work across the board with all Uzbek people -- with the government, with the political opposition, with people in the middle. We want to work with the entire society, as we do in the neighboring broader Middle East," Bryza said. "And that's an enduring interest of ours, so we haven't grown any more active in our engagement with all Uzbekistan society. Maybe the world is paying more attention to our engagement now."

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