Monthly Archives: May 2005


“Uzbekistan has shown former Soviet states that the west tolerates the repression of peaceful protest in return for oil”

The Guardian – The lie about liberty: The Kyrgyz official stood in his office and surveyed the angry crowds circling the presidential administration below. “Akayev will not shoot his own people,” he said, accurately predicting the decision by Askar Akayev, the former Kyrgyz president, to flee the building and country on March 24 rather than shoot the few thousand protesters who went on to loot his palatial White House.

Yet the halo that has since adorned Mr Akayev, generally the least brutal of central Asia’s dictators, has not stopped his continued exile in Moscow, where he watches the wealth of his former fiefdom being redistributed among the remnants of its elite. One can only imagine his chagrin when, six weeks later across the border in neighbouring Uzbekistan, President Karimov gave the former Soviet Union’s remaining authoritarians a textbook lesson in Stalinist repression: shoot them down and shut the doors; and soon the world will forget.

The brutal massacre of hundreds of civilians in Andijan is already beginning to fade from international consciousness. Islam Karimov’s regime has efficiently prevented any transparent investigation of the town’s fate. Germany, France, Nato, the EU, US and UN have all called for an independent international investigation. Mr Karimov has said Uzbekistan does not need to be “terrorised” by such requests. A veteran of 14 years of brutality, he appears to be sleeping well.

Jack Straw’s insistence on an inquiry has not stopped the EU from continuing its aid packages to Uzbekistan. In truth, Europe has little leverage on a country with bigger, less sensitive friends. On Wednesday, Mr Karimov went to China, a nation practised in suppressing both Muslims and protest. Beijing gave him the requisite assurance that he did the right thing in suppressing the “separatism, terrorism and extremism” represented by the Andijan uprising, before striking a deal to prospect for oil in the central Asian state.

In this visit, Mr Karimov has astutely reminded his other ally, Washington, of its competitor in the region. The White House, which took six days to condemn a crackdown it initially said was in part against “terrorists”, has too much at stake to get squeamish about Andijan. Washington appears to fear the possibility of Islamic insurgency in the region more than the consequences of the Karimov regime’s long-term suppression of a country of 26 million. Uzbekistan – strengthened by $50.6m in US aid last year, a fifth of which was for “security and law enforcement” – remains the dominant, US-friendly hardman neighbour of every other central Asian state, a useful linchpin for a threadbare and volatile region.

While the Pentagon has said it will be “more cautious” in its use of a vital military base in Khanabad, and Condoleezza Rice has said the aid might be reviewed, that appears to be just about it. It has instead fallen to the US senator John McCain, after a visit to Tashkent, to brand the events a “massacre” yesterday. Mr Karimov is intent on keeping the media out – the Guardian has been waiting a fortnight longer than usual for a visa – as mass arrests ensure this crackdown cannot snowball into a full-scale revolt.

Soon other former Soviet republics will have to decide whether to take a leaf from Mr Karimov’s freshly penned textbook. The White House’s “beacons of liberty” rhetoric has fomented dreams of – and even plans for – revolution in the oil giants of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, both expecting elections by the end of the year that the government will characteristically try to fix.

The events in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan had sent shivers through the body politic of both countries, causing the Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to ban protests during election time, to shut opposition papers and to let his police beat youth protesters wearing orange, the colour of Ukraine’s revolution. In a coup de grace for both irony and free speech in the country, yesterday an opposition figure went on trial for slander after he accused Mr Nazarbayev’s daughter, Dariga, of illegally creating a media monopoly, allegations she denies.

On the other side of the Caspian, Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliev – his father’s dynastic successor – regularly sends in riot troops to batter protesters. Pro-democracy revolutions are a luxury when geopolitical issues such as hydrocarbons are at stake. Last Wednesday’s opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline – set to bring oil from the Azerbaijani Caspian and eventually Kazakhstan to European and American markets – helps spell out Washington’s key principles in the region.

Mr Aliev felt comfortable enough in his relationship with Washington to ban a demonstration planned for the previous Saturday – protesting for free parliamentary elections this November – so as not to spoil the atmosphere for Wednesday’s ceremony. When the protest went ahead all the same, he sent in the riot police, who hit some demonstrators with truncheons and made 100 arrests.

The Norwegian ambassador to Baku, Steinar Gil, whose vociferous criticism of human-rights abuses, despite his country’s strategic investment in the BTC, is fast turning him into an Azerbaijani Craig Murray, was a lone voice among diplomats when he condemned the Aliev regime’s “crude violence”. The US embassy said it “regretted” that the right to assemble freely had been violated.

After Andijan, in the former Soviet Union at least, a state that shoots dead hundreds of peaceful protesters can no longer expect to become an international pariah. Its lesson will be apparent by the end of the year. When the protesters gather in November in Baku and in December in Almaty, Mr Aliev and Mr Nazarbayev could only better their Uzbek counterpart’s performance by digging the mass graves before their troops take aim.

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US senators rebuffed by Karimov

US senators push for Uzbek probe

By Monica Whitlock

BBC News, Tashkent

A group of United States senators is in Uzbekistan to try to press for an international inquiry into the bloody events there two weeks ago.

Then, the army opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators in the town of Andijan, possibly killing hundreds. But President Islam Karimov has said that no outside country can assist in establishing the facts. He declined to meet the senators, a sign of how strained the US-Uzbek relationship has become.

Senator John McCain, leading the team, was blunt in his opening remarks. “We are here today because we are concerned about recent events which entailed the killing of innocent people,” he said. “I believe that the United States must make this government understand that a relationship is very difficult, if not impossible, if the government continues to repress its people.”

Mr McCain said an international inquiry into the killings at Andijan must take place at once, led by the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). He was backed by the US ambassador in Tashkent, Jon Purnell, who said he had continued to urge the Uzbek government to allow an inquiry, even though President Karimov has already rejected the idea.

But how much influence the diplomatic world still has on Uzbekistan is hard to judge. It is a sign of the times that President Karimov and all his officials refuse to meet the senators and their news conference took place in the US embassy basement.

Before Andijan, US visits were generally grand affairs, attended by top officials and given great play on state television. Tashkent and Washington became significant partners after 11 September 2001, when the US army opened an airbase in southern Uzbekistan, close to the Afghan border.

The base is still the springboard for US operations in Afghanistan, and it is not clear what will happen to it should relations continue to sour.

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Karimov looks to China and Russia for support

Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov has arrived in China on a state visit.

This the first country he decided to visit following the brutal suppression of the uprising in Andijan.

Pravda describe his quest for “counterrevolutionary solidarity”

The international community is calling for an independent inquiry into the Andijan drama, accusing the Uzbek authorities of numerous human rights violations

Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov has arrived in China on a state visit. This the first country he decided to visit following the brutal suppression of the uprising in Andijan. These days China looks like the best way to go to for Mr. Karimov. Moscow could have been his only alternative.

The international community is calling for an independent inquiry into the Andijan drama while accusing the Uzbek authorities of numerous human rights violations. Only two countries sound out tune with the rest of the world. Both Moscow and Beijing called the events in Andijan “an internal affair of Uzbekistan.”

Mr. Karimov began pushing for “active friendship” with Beijing about two years ago. He was also seeking Moscow’s support at the time following the disruption of relations between Uzbekistan and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. In 2002, the EBRD accused Tashkent of committing a number of deplorable things such as human rights violations and the use of torture in prisons. Subsequently, the Uzbek authorities decided to improve relations with those who turn a blind eye to the situation in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan and Russia signed an agreement on strategic partnership. Now a similar document will be signed in Beijing after the talks with the Chinese leadership.

“It is highly unlikely that Beijing will criticize Mr. Karimov for the way he put down the upheaval in Andijan because the memories of Tiananmen Square are still alive,” Andrei Grozin was quoted as saying to Izvestia. Mr. Grozin is a head of the department for studies of Kazakhstan and Central Asia of the Institute of the CIS Countries. China’s stance on the events in Uzbekistan is based primarily on the “Kyrgyz experience.” Beijing is interested in maintaining its positions in Central Asia. “China used Kyrgyzstan as a “model country” of sorts for strengthening its economic influence in Central Asia,” said Mr. Grozin. According to him, the groups that seized power in Kyrgyzstan mostly share the anti-Chinese sentiments and Beijing could not but worry about the situation. China does not want any new “velvet revolutions” in Central Asia.

The West still demands that the Uzbek authorities agree to an independent inquiry and release the human rights activists who tried to call into question the official version of “the Andijan riots.” Meanwhile, Russia and China are busy strengthening their friendship and “counterrevolutionary solidarity” with Uzbekistan.

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Uzbek army used British equipment in Andijan massacre

Uzbek massacre soldiers used Land Rovers in defiance of arms control promise

Discolsure threatens to embarass Government ahead of arms treaty at G8 summit in June

By Tom Baldwin writing in TimesOnline

BRITISH military equipment was used by troops who massacred hundreds of protesters in Uzbekistan this month despite government promises that it would block arms exports to tyrannical regimes.

Photographic evidence examined by The Times shows Uzbek soldiers crouching for cover alongside armoured Land Rover Defenders as they pointed guns at unarmed demonstrators in Andijan on May 13 ? when up to 500 men, women and children were shot dead.

The disclosure threatens to cause deep embarrassment for the Government ahead of a G8 summit next month when Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, will table Britain’s plans for an international arms trade treaty banning the sale of any weapons which might be used against civilians.

Labour claims that it has pioneered efforts to crack down on arms exports. Legislation passed by Parliament in 2002 is supposed to ensure that exports are prohibited to countries which fail EU standards on human rights, armed conflict and sustainable development. Uzbekistan, which the United Nations has condemned for the “systematic” use of torture, would certainly have fallen foul of these rules.

But campaign groups, along with Labour MPs such as Ann Clywd and Roger Berry, have repeatedly warned the Government that the law contains a “massive loophole” through which such regimes can still obtain British weapons.

It is believed that the armoured Land Rovers used in Andijan two weeks ago were assembled by a firm called Otokar in Turkey which has had a licence to produce the vehicles since 1987 ? a deal subsidised by the last Conservative Government. Next to the Uzbek flag on one of the vehicles photographed is a small Turkish crescent symbol. But the design and technology of the Defenders is British, as well as almost three quarters of the components, which are exported from Land Rover in Solihull.

The UK Working Group on Arms, an umbrella organisation which includes Amnesty International, the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) and SaferWorld, yesterday wrote to Alan Johnson, the Trade and Industry Secretary, to say the Uzbekistan massacre had realised their worst fears. One leading figure from the group said: “Before this episode came to light, the prospect of people like Islam Karimov (the Uzbek President) having access to our military equipment was only hypothetical. Now it has come true.”

They are demanding that the Government gets legally binding assurances about the “end-use” of all British-supplied equipment, as well as ensuring that UK-made components are not re-exported to another country without permission.

Paul Ingram, senior analyst with the BASIC think-tank, said: “Armoured vehicles such as the military Land Rovers used in Uzbekistan are crucial tools of oppression. The use of British technology in the killing of up to 500 unarmed demonstrators shows only too clearly that the Government has failed to grasp the nettle with licensed military production.

“It is high time they set up a licensing system for the agreements defence companies use to set up foreign production lines as tight as the licensing system for the export of the weapon systems themselves. The Government needs a stronger system of end-use controls.”

Brian Wood, from Amnesty, said: “Until we have agreed an international arms trade treaty, weapons will continue to get into the wrong hands and be used for human rights violations. The British Government is to be praised for backing the treaty; now it has a responsibility to make it a reality before more massacres are linked to British arms sales.”

The Defender, classified by the Government as a weapon, is very different from the Land Rovers sold to farmers and four-wheel-drive vehicle enthusiasts. Military specifications include reinforced body panels, bombproofed chassis, armoured plating offering high ballistic protection, bulletproof combat tyres, as well as specialist command, control and communications equipment. They can also be fitted with rotating hatches for a range of weapons including 7.62mm to .50in calibre heavy machineguns.

There is no suggestion that Land Rover has behaved illegally or improperly, while the Government has denied that any UK arms could have been used by the Uzbek security forces in the massacre. Although a handful of export licences for Land Rovers has been granted to Uzbekistan, these were either for private use or for American military in the country.

Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan who contested Mr Straw’s Blackburn seat as an Independent at the election, has stated that he refused licence applications for items such as night-vision goggles.

However, Turkey has close military ties with Uzbekistan and since 2001, credible reports suggest at least 48 armoured Land Rovers have been presented to Karimov’s Government. These vehicles alone could provide transport, command and communication and support operations for a battalion of troops.

A DTI spokesman last night said: “We have, to date, uncovered no evidence to suggest that the Land Rovers pictured in the recent troubles in Uzbekistan either originated from the UK or contained UK components. If such evidence is made available we would, of course, look closely at this, and consider its implications.

“Licensed production is not specifically controlled under export control legislation, but export licence applications do specifically ask whether the goods are to be used in a licensed production facility and this is taken into consideration.”

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“What we need in this region is an aircraft carrier in a smooth, calm sea and Uzbekistan is that aircraft carrier.”

The Spectator – Base Motives – (subscription only): Michael Andersen on the double standards behind US support for the brutal Uzbek President, Islam Karimov

To people in Central Asia, home to some of the most oppressive regimes in the world, President Bush’s inaugural speech in January was important. “When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you”, said Bush, and his words sounded very promising. Thirteen years after the collapse of the Soviet dictatorship, no country in Central Asia has yet held elections which could be described as even remotely free or fair. While the presidents, their families and entourages amass enormous fortunes, 80 per cent of the population struggles to survive on less than $1 a day.

Celebrating VE Day in the Baltic states, the US President lambasted the Soviet occupation and “secret deals to determine somebody else’s fate”. A couple of days later, speaking in front of 100,000 people in Tbilisi’s Freedom Square, the US president talked enthusiastically about “the idea of countries helping others become free” and “a rational, decent and humane foreign policy”.

“The path of freedom you chose is not easy, but you will not travel it alone,” Bush promised. As Julian Evans reported last week in these pages, the US is actively fomenting revolt in Belarus. In Central Asia, however, US policy is characterised not by supporting the oppressed, but by showering the oppressors with millions of dollars and political support in return for access to the region’s military installations and energy resources.

For three years experts have been warning against this hypocrisy. In the words of David Lewis, Central Asia director for the Crisis Group, “the list of countries which are described as tyrannies is very selective. Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan are exactly as tyrannical as Cuba or Iran, but are not on the list because they are security allies of the US. The double standards in US foreign policy are very clearly demonstrated in Central Asia. And there are no signs that this will change.”

The explanation is not difficult to find. Within a few weeks of 9/11, the Bush administration agreed to pay $500 million for a strategically important military base in Uzbekistan from where its special forces operate into Afghanistan. The other Central Asian countries immediately granted the US landing rights and intelligence-sharing. An old study mate of mine, now an adviser to Donald Rumsfeld, told me in Tashkent, “What we need in this region is an aircraft carrier in a smooth, calm sea and Uzbekistan is that aircraft carrier.” He laughed and told me to “grow up” when I asked him about the human rights abuses of the Uzbek regime. “Mr Rumsfeld is right,” he sarcastically told me, “Uzbekistan is stable – stable and quiet as a graveyard.”

The Uzbek President Islam Karimov certainly seems pretty stable. In January 2002 he extended his rule until 2020. “Sometimes authoritative methods are necessary,” he said. And two days later the US secretary of state Beth Jones was on Uzbek TV enthusing over the “new warmth” between the two countries, wishing the dictator a very happy birthday and inviting him to visit the White House.

The following spring the Uzbek police who receive $80 million a year from the US boiled two prisoners to death; an act which did not deter Colin Powell, a couple of months later, from testifying to Congress that Uzbekistan is “making progress”. “Such statements are designed to keep the Uzbek regime happy and to fool people in the US,” says an angry Matilda Bogner from the Human Rights Watch office in Tashkent.

“US foreign policy in Central Asia is run by the Pentagon,” says David Lewis. “In the summer of 2004 Congress forced the State Department to reduce its funding to Uzbekistan because of human rights abuses. But two weeks later the Pentagon gave $25 million to the Uzbek government. This is a clear signal to the Uzbek regime not to take international criticism seriously.”

Many Western diplomats in Tashkent were disgusted with the US policy, but their governments kept them “on message”. That is until Craig Murray arrived. At 44, Murray was Britain’s youngest ambassador, with a promising career ahead of him. With the waistcoat of his three-piece suit barely concealing his pot-belly, his thick glasses and unkempt grey hair, he looked like a quirky professor from a softer, more decent era. Uzbekistan shocked him. “At the Foreign Office, they prepared me with language lessons, but nobody ever mentioned the 10,000 political and religious prisoners,” he said.

In October 2002 the US ambassador gave a speech in which he praised the close relations between the US and Uzbekistan and argued that Uzbekistan had made “some progress” on “democratic reforms and human rights”. The broad smile he bestowed on his new British colleague as he handed over the microphone quickly disappeared. “Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy,” said Craig Murray, adding (and contradicting what his US colleague had just said), “nor does it appear to be moving in the direction of democracy.” He then described, in detail, the case of the two boiled prisoners.

“Murray is a finished man here,” one US top diplomat told me over lunch the next day. “A shame that Blair could only find an alcoholic to send here,” another remarked.

Murray went on to compare Karimov with Saddam Hussein: “Why do we remove one dictator and support another who is just as bad?” he cabled home. He also protested against “extraordinary rendition” when suspected terrorists are delivered by the CIA for interrogation to countries well known for using torture, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Uzbekistan.

“In Central Asia, Bush applies the model which failed in Iran,” Bahodir Musayev, a Tashkent sociologist, told me. “First priority the Shah, second priority the military and, at the bottom, the population. The US support for Karimov has led to a genocide. Anybody who disagrees with the regime is exterminated…only the extreme Islamic underground opposition has managed to survive.”

In 2004 a number of suicide attacks on the brutal Uzbek police, as well as one on the US embassy, provided worrying evidence that the Karimov regime is indeed provoking such a radicalisation. The bloodshed started last Friday in Andizhan, a region 10 miles from where I used to live. Here you can find villages where most families have one or more relatives (often youths of between 12 and 20) serving long jail sentences for having a Muslim beard or for conducting prayer meetings in their houses. In some streets there are practically no young men aged between 18 and 35 left.

This time the violence was the culmination of demonstrations which had been going on for weeks over a trial of 23 local businessmen. Without a shred of evidence, the Uzbek regime accused the 23 of being Islamic terrorists. Several of the men do belong to the group Akramia, a group of pious Muslims named after its founder, Akram Yuldashev, an Islamic dissident who was jailed in 1999 for allegedly planning President Karimovs overthrow. The Akramis are very able businessmen and form the heart of the small business community in Andizhan, providing several thousand jobs in the area. Many there believe the charges were trumped up by local officials in order to seize the property of the accused.

After weeks of orderly demonstrations for the release of the 23, armed gunmen stormed the prison and freed not only the 23 but 2,000 other prisoners and seized a government building and 10 police hostages. Soon thereafter thousands of people converged on the city’s main square for an anti-government rally. According to all independent accounts this was completely peaceful. Many women and children could be seen in the few pictures that appear on the internet the Uzbek government then closed off the region in an attempt to quash both the demonstrators and the story. Within a few hours the army attacked the crowd; according to many eye-witnesses, they fired indiscriminately, killing hundreds.

“The innocent perished,” Nadyr, a worker at the Andizhan market, told the AFP news agency. “They placed weapons near the killed civilians to make people think that they were terrorists.”

The Uzbek President immediately blamed Hizb-ut-Tahrir for the violence. “The centre of planning was in southern Kyrgyzstan and the territory of the Ferghana Valley,” he said. “Their aim is to overthrow the constitutional regime.” Karimov also claimed that his security services had tapped phone conversations between the rebels and their colleagues in neighbouring Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Jalalabad just across the border, and even in Afghanistan. As anybody knows who has ever used a phone in this part of the world, the idea of such calls is nonsense. Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Central Asia is an outlandish but absolutely peaceful sect. Its goal is to (re)establish an Islamic Caliphate from North Africa across Arabia to Central Asia. Despite many attempts by Central Asian regimes, Hizb-ut-Tahrir has never been proved to have used violence, and it has swiftly denied any involvement in Andizhan.

“The terrorists of tomorrow are the people whose rights are trodden on today,” Craig Murray said to me in the summer of 2003. Later that night a stooped old woman approached me as I left the British embassy. Her son had been jailed for 20 years for attending private prayer meetings. Murray had tried to help him. She was afraid to go in but said, “Please tell Mr Murray that I pray for him. Britain should be proud to have such an honest man as its representative.”

A month later Craig Murray was locked out of his embassy, recalled to London and accused of power abuse, including being drunk on the job and selling visas for sex. Sources in the Foreign Office told me that “a systematic campaign” was waged against Murray, partly directed from Downing Street. His honesty cost Murray his job, his marriage, a nervous breakdown and a spell in hospital on suicide watch.

All accusations were later withdrawn, and in February Murray received ‘315,000 in redundancy from the Foreign Office. He used some of the money to stand for Parliament against his former boss, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in Blackburn. “There are fundamental values like human decency and opposition to torture which I hope we as Europeans stand for. In his eagerness to be George Bush’s poodle, Blair has sold out these values,” he says.

Michael Andersen has reported from Central Asia and the Caucasus, for the past four years.

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“If the journalists, correspondents come ‘ you should not tell them anything, otherwise we will find you.’

Human Rights Watch – Uzbekistan: Government Shuts Off Andijan: The government of Uzbekistan is trying to block information about the killings of hundreds of people in Andijan on May 13, Human Rights Watch said today.

A Human Rights Watch researcher who went to Andijan found new evidence of government measures that prevent the public from learning the full story about the killings and the government’s use of force.

Human Rights Watch urged the United States not to engage in any further discussions with Uzbekistan about making permanent its military base there, and called on the European Union to suspend a major trade agreement until the Uzbek government allows an independent, international inquiry into the May 13 killings.

‘The Uzbek authorities are trying to shut Andijan off from the world,’ said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. ‘They’re going to succeed unless other governments insist on a full international investigation, and soon.’

Nearly two weeks after the shootings, Andijan residents whom Human Rights Watch contacted clearly feared government retribution for speaking about the events. A woman who was wounded and lost two family members on May 13 told Human Rights Watch:

‘I am so scared, I don’t want anything, I don’t want any justice. Don’t tell our names, don’t say you came to our house ‘ just say you heard about what happened to us from other people.’

Several people told Human Rights Watch that police had warned them not to talk to journalists or other ‘outsiders.’

One person told Human Rights Watch:

‘Last night there was an [identification] check throughout the neighborhood. Several policemen were checking the documents in every house. They warned us, ‘If the journalists, correspondents come ‘ you should not tell them anything, otherwise we will find you.”

The same person warned Human Rights Watch not to go to the local cemetery where there were reportedly visibly fresh graves, because ‘there is an informant sitting near the gates watching for any strangers who come to the cemetery.’

Andijan remains essentially closed to journalists and human rights investigators. Police have either forced foreign journalists in Andijan to leave or threatened them and their support staff. Police have warned taxi drivers not to take foreign passengers to Andijan. Any traveler to the city must first pass through numerous checkpoints and undergo thorough searches…

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Craig Murray accuses Straw of “pious hypocrisies” over Uzbekistan

The Sunday Telegraph – Straw accused of ‘pious hypocrisies’ over Uzbekistan: Britain’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan has accused Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, of “pious hypocrisies” over his statements condemning the shootings of up to 500 anti-government demonstrators by troops in the Uzbek capital.

Craig Murray, who quit the Foreign Office last year after claiming that it was complicit in the Uzbek government’s human rights abuses, said that Mr Straw had issued “platitudes” rather than a proper call for reform.

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New Swedish Documents Illuminate CIA Action

By Craig Whitlock writing in the Washington Post

STOCKHOLM — The CIA Gulfstream V jet touched down at a small airport west of here just before 9 p.m. on a subfreezing night in December 2001. A half-dozen agents wearing hoods that covered their faces stepped down from the aircraft and hurried across the tarmac to take custody of two prisoners, suspected Islamic radicals from Egypt.

Inside an airport police station, Swedish officers watched as the CIA operatives pulled out scissors and rapidly sliced off the prisoners’ clothes, including their underwear, according to newly released Swedish government documents and eyewitness statements. They probed inside the men’s mouths and ears and examined their hair before dressing the pair in sweat suits and draping hoods over their heads. The suspects were then marched in chains to the plane, where they were strapped to mattresses on the floor in the back of the cabin.

So began an operation the CIA calls an “extraordinary rendition,” the forcible and highly secret transfer of terrorism suspects to their home countries or other nations where they can be interrogated with fewer legal protections.

The practice has generated increasing criticism from civil liberties groups; in Sweden a parliamentary investigator who conducted a 10-month probe into the case recently concluded that the CIA operatives violated Swedish law by subjecting the prisoners to “degrading and inhuman treatment” and by exercising police powers on Swedish soil.

“Should Swedish officers have taken those measures, I would have prosecuted them without hesitation for the misuse of public power and probably would have asked for a prison sentence,” the investigator, Mats Melin, said in an interview. He said he could not charge the CIA operatives because he was authorized to investigate only Swedish government officials, but he did not rule out the possibility that other Swedish prosecutors could do so.

The basic facts of the Stockholm rendition were reported last year; this article is based on newly released documents from the parliamentary probe that provide elaborate details about an operation that normally unfolds entirely out of public view and about the government deliberations that preceded it.

Swedish security police said they were taken aback by the swiftness and precision of the CIA agents that night. Investigators concluded that the Swedes essentially stood aside and let the Americans take control of the operation, moving silently and communicating with hand signals, the documents show.

“I can say that we were surprised when a crew stepped out of the plane that seemed to be very professional, that had obviously done this before,” Arne Andersson, an assistant director for the Swedish national security police, told government investigators.

At 9:47 p.m., less than an hour after its arrival at Bromma Airport, the jet took off on a five-hour flight to Cairo, where the prisoners, Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad Zery, were handed over to Egyptian security officials.

The CIA has not acknowledged playing any part in the expulsion of the two men. An agency spokesman in Washington declined to comment for this article, and U.S. Embassy officials in Stockholm also declined to answer questions.

CIA officials have testified that they have used rendition for years after tracking down suspected terrorists around the world. They say the U.S. government receives assurances of humane treatment from the countries where the suspects are taken. Human rights groups say that such pledges, from governments with long histories of torture, are worthless.

The two Egyptians later told lawyers, relatives and Swedish diplomats that they were subjected to electric shocks and other forms of torture soon after their forced return to their country.

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“We are in a real sense culpable” – Craig Murray on the aftermath of the Uzbek massacres

The Financial Times Magazine – Comment piece from Craig Murray: I have lost count of the number of journalists who have asked me ‘Do you feel vindicated?’ My replies to that one have been unprintable. How can you feel vindicated by several hundred dead people? Mostly I just feel miserable. I think we are in a real sense culpable. It is Western support for Karimov that gives him such arrogant assurance in gunning down his opponents.

Ever since I heard ‘ by email about three weeks ago – that street protests were taking off in Andizhan ‘ I had been longing to be there. I would never get a visa, but was speculating about getting over from Kirghizstan on a smuggler’s route. Once the massacre happened sections of border were out of control for a few days. I desperately wanted to go. Annoyingly, I have to go into hospital tomorrow for a heart operation on Monday. I have been trying to convince myself that I have done more good by media work here.

That desire to be there did not entail a longing to be British Ambassador again. At least, not until Wednesday, when I saw reports of the pathetic trip by diplomats to inspect the scene. I had predicted on ITN that this would be ‘a nauseating propaganda charade’. It was. They travelled in a tightly controlled convoy on a sealed off route. The blood had been hosed away. The government dictated who they could meet. The only civilian was the father of a dead soldier. This charabanc trip ended an hour and a half before they expected ‘ Karimov doesn’t just get the buses to run on time, they even run early. The bulk of the time was taken in a formal banquet.

My successor, David Moran, bleated ‘Can we not meet some people?’ Of course you can. At that moment I wished I was back in his shoes. You just walk out, pushing past the soldiers, down to the bazaar, and talk to people. One of my more delightful memories was of Clare Short doing exactly that in May 2003, to the huge consternation of the regime. You, David, are one of the tiny number of people in Uzbekistan they can’t shoot. No-one physically forced you to spend the bulk of your precious time in Andizhan on your arse.

I have been keeping up with events both from phone and email contacts to Uzbekistan, and via the internet. I see The Australian has reported I had a habit of manhandling obstructive Uzbek officials (how did they know?). I wouldn’t call it a habit, but you do sometimes have to show in a totalitarian state that you are not going to be obstructed in your work. To be fair to David Moran, his semi-protest showed at least some backbone; it was more than most of my senior ex-colleagues would have done.

The next day we had the Uzbek Prokurator General announcing that 170 people had, after all, been killed but that they were all armed rebels. I did feel vindicated by the sheer disbelief that greeted this. Here is why.

In March 2004 there were a series of explosions and shootings in Tashkent, in which at least thirty people died. I dashed round to the scene of each incident, arriving within hours or even minutes, accompanied by Giles Whittell of the Times who had just walked in to the Embassy to interview me.

Suicide bombers from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, linked to Al Qaida, had carried out a series of attacks on security forces. That remains the internationally accepted version of events. But it isn’t true.

I attended the briefings the Prokurator General gave to journalists and diplomats. His claims were completely incompatible with the facts I observed. He said suicide belts had been used each with the force of two kilos of TNT. But at the sites there just wasn’t the physical damage. Not so much as a cracked paving stone, let alone a crater. The first ‘bomb’ had been in a roughly triangular courtyard thirty metres wide at maximum. Allegedly six soldiers and a suicide bomber had been killed. Not a pane of glass was broken in the buildings overlooking the courtyard, not a branch or sprig torn from the tree in the centre.

My reports that the Prokurator General was lying through his teeth brought me startled reproof from my management in London. You see, the attacks by Islamic terrorists fitted our narrative. So I feel a personal relief that the lies are at last being exposed.

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Demonstrate against the Uzbek massacres – Uzbek Embassy, London, 12 noon, Saturday 21st May

12 Noon – Saturday 21st May 2005 – Assemble at the Uzbek Embassy, 41 Holland Park Road, London W11 3RP

*Support Uzbekistan’s democratic opposition.

*Demand justice for the hundreds murdered by Karimov in Andizhan this week.

*Call for an end to Western support for this brutal regime.

This demonstration has been called by a group of UK-based Uzbek dissidents, and is supported by Craig Murray, Britain’s former Ambassador to Uzbekistan.

Please disseminate this message as widely as possible

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Fax your MP!

Craig Murray has urged people to write to their MP calling for free elections in Uzbekistan, and demanding that Britain stops terming Karimov’s murderous regime our “ally”. Having worked in the Foreign Office, Craig has seen how much of a difference a letter to an MP can make.

To support Craig’s call, you can write to your MP via www.faxyourmp.com – it’s quick, easy and free!

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Conservative Party demands apology from Jack Straw over “disgraceful” treatment of Craig Murray

The Scotsman – Tories Demand Straw Apology over Ex-Envoy:

By Vivienne Morgan, PA Political Staff

Tories today demanded an apology from Foreign Secretary Jack Straw over his ‘disgraceful’ treatment of Britain’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan.

Craig Murray was withdrawn from his post in the Central Asian country last year after criticising its human rights record.

He has said he lost his job because he accused British and US intelligence services of using information allegedly obtained through torture by Uzbek security services.

The Foreign Office said he was withdrawn because he lost the confidence of senior officials and colleagues.

Mr Murray stood as an independent candidate against Mr Straw at Blackburn in the General Election.

During exchanges on future business today, Tory Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) said: ‘Many of us believe that our ex-ambassador Craig Murray has been disgracefully treated by the Foreign Secretary, but no action was taken against human rights abuses in that country.

‘We’d like an apology from the Foreign Secretary from that dispatch box,’ he added to shouts of support from Conservative benches.

Commons Leader Geoff Hoon replied: ‘I am sure that if he judges it necessary there will be a statement on Uzbekistan.’

He added that a detailed report was awaited from the current British ambassador, David Moran, who visited the troubled part of the state yesterday.

Opposition activists have claimed that some 700 people were killed during protests in Andijan and another town, Pakhtabad ‘ most of them civilians shot dead by government troops and security forces.

The Uzbek government of President Islam Karimov has said that 169 people died in Andijan and blamed the disturbances on militant Islamists.

Mr Straw has called for an independent international inquiry.

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The blood of the Uzbeks, the hypocrisy of the West, and the last great oil grab

The Indepent – The blood of the Uzbeks, the hypocrisy of the West, and the last great oil grab – by Johann Hari: Welcome to the New Middle East. On your left, you’ll see the largest Asian massacre since Tienanmen Square. Look – they’re hosing blood off the streets. To your right, you can see some dissidents being boiled alive, while the local regime smirks they had “an accident with a kettle”. Ah, and here’s a dictator who reminisces about his trips to the White House and brags: “I’m prepared to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, in order to save peace and calm in the republic. If my child chose such a path, I would rip off his head myself.”

The debate about Uzbekistan over the past week has been weirdly unreal. The Uzbek people are rebelling because they live in grinding, binding poverty and have no freedoms at all. Many still live on Soviet-style collectivised farms and earn less than $2 a day. True, there is a small Islamic fundamentalist political movement in the country, but in the current rebellion all the classic jihadist tactics – like suicide-bombs or targetting civilians – have been scrupulously avoided, with only the police feeling the force of their rage. Yet all it has taken is for Islam Karimov to cry “terrorism!” and most Western politicians and journalists have acted as though the “war on terror” is the reason why Britain and America are deeply enmeshed with the Karimov tyranny.

Yes, the Uzbek KGB provides us with some intelligence on apparent al-Qa’ida cells, but according to a man who has read all of it – Craig Murray, Britain’s ambassador to the country post-9/11 – it is “totally useless”. This is hardly surprising, since Karimov is “systematically” using torture, according to the UN. Information acquired via electrodes is as useful as the European confessions of witchcraft in the 16th century.

Any benefit to the “terror war” from reading this junk is far outweighed by the damage to that same “war” caused by our association with Karimov. All experts on the region agree that Karimov’s Stalin-era policies of criminalising Islam, no matter how mild or pluralistic, is directly fuelling jihadism. As one member of the European Parliament’s Uzbekistan relations committee explains: “By supporting Karimov, we are helping to create the very thing we fear – Islamic fundamentalism. Islam has never been strong in central Asia. Even before the Russians came, alcohol was widely drunk, prayer observed fitfully. Now, a visitor sees neither beards nor headscarves… yet official persecution is giving fundamentalists their opening in the region. Ordinary Uzbeks, constantly told that all opponents of the regime are Islamic radicals, are understandably wondering whether there might not be something in this ideology.” And by shovelling cash to Karimov and building bases on Uzbek soil, we are ensuring angry Uzbeks will ultimately blame us for their oppression – and possibly make us pay a blood-price for it. Jihadism was born in the Middle East when the West supported savage dictators; why repeat the mistake?

No; the reasons for our governments’ connections to Karimov are rather different. Uzbekistan’s first uprising – the first of many – is right now being crushed by US-trained troops and with US funds, in return for access to the last great oil-grab in history. The Republican regime in the White House wants to be part of the global scramble for the final untapped stash of fossil fuels on earth, before the carbon-burning party winds to an end. Central Asia holds up to 243 billion barrels of crude, worth around $4 trillion – enough to meet the West’s energy needs for years – and Uzbekistan is in the region’s dead (and I mean dead) centre. A strategic decision was clearly taken that, if this requires them to fund and fuel Karimov, the butcher of Uzbekistan – and inadvertently recreate the Middle East in central Asia – so be it.

This isn’t just my view. In 1998, Dick Cheney – when he was still CEO of the oil firm Halliburton – explained, “I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian [central Asia’s source of oil].” Three years later, Cheney was responsible for the National Energy Report, which recommended that “the President make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy”. Their words. Their intentions.

At a time when oil supplies are either vulnerable to jihadist coups (as in Saudi Arabia, where our governments still back and arm the odious House of Saud) or are simply running dry, the oil industry is ravenous for new supplies. In some places – like Iraq – this thirst will lead the US to overthrow tyrants but, in just as many places, like Uzbekistan, it will lead them to prop up oil-and-pipeline-friendly tyrants, with the British government following closely behind. The question “do they let us buy and sell their oil?” determines policy, not the question “do they terrorise their people?”

So we ignore the voices of the Uzbek people; nobody wants to know the price for our carbon-economy. The rote condemnations offered by the US and British governments over the past few days do not match their actions. (The US call for “peaceful resistance” – in a country where people regularly “disappear” for joking about the leader – is preposterous). Look at the plight of Craig Murray as British ambassador. Whitehall’s man in Tashkent did everything a representative of democracy should: he spoke out against Karimov’s butchery, and offered dissidents support and protection. He was repaid with the sack, and a vicious smear campaign. There is no point having a fake argument about whether Karimov is a necessary but ugly ally in the “war on terror”, when the real argument is about whether it is worth trading the human rights of 25 million Uzbeks for access to remaining oil supplies.

We must be honest: that is what the current policy amounts to. At the best of times, trading human lives and human dignity for oil would be repellent, but right now, it would be near-suicidal. Islamic fundamentalism will pose a genuine threat to free societies in the coming age of DIY-WMD, where the technologies of destruction are terrifyingly easy to acquire. We need to undercut the causes of Islamic fundamentalism – particularly Western-backed tyranny in the Muslim world – now.

Even more importantly, the petrol-based economy which these excursions into central Asia are designed to prop up is an environmental disaster for all humans, and finding a new set of dealers for our fossil-fuel habit is not the solution.

Some American environmentalists have tried to turn this insight into what they call a “geo-green movement” to make Americans realise that they need urgently to begin the transition away from dirty fuels, for the sake of human rights abroad and for the planet. It’s time for a British counterpart. For the sake of us and for the sake of the Uzbeks, it’s time to wake up and smell the petrol.

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The folly of “sonofabitchism”

The Guardian – He’s our sonofabitch: Think of it as the sonofabitch school of foreign policy. Legend has it that when Franklin D Roosevelt was confronted with the multiple cruelties of his ally, the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, he replied: “He may be a sonofabitch, but he’s our sonofabitch.”

More than 60 years on, that serves as a pretty good expression of American, and therefore British, attitudes to Islam Karimov, the tyrant of Tashkent who has ruled the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

That he is a sonofabitch is beyond dispute. Like so many despots before him, Karimov has looked to medieval times for ever more brutal methods of oppression. Hence the return of the cauldron, boiling alive two of his critics in 2002. Uzbekistan holds up to 6,000 political prisoners; independent economic activity has been crushed; religious practice is severely restricted; there is no free press; and the internet is censored. On December 26, when the world was marvelling at Ukraine’s orange revolution, Karimov was hosting an election that was not nearly as close – he had banned all the opposition parties.

But, hey, what’s a little human rights violation among friends? And Karimov has certainly been our friend. Shortly after 9/11, he allowed the US to locate an airbase at Khanabad – a helpful contribution to the upcoming war against Afghanistan. Since then he has been happy to act as a reliable protector of central Asian oil and gas supplies, much coveted by a US eager to reduce its reliance on the Gulf states. And he has gladly let Uzbekistan be used for what is euphemistically known as “rendition”, the practice of exporting terror suspects to countries less squeamish about torture than Britain or the US. This was the matter over which the heroic Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Tashkent, fell out with his employers: he argued that Britain was “selling its soul” by using information gathered under such heinous circumstances.

Brushing Murray’s qualms to one side, London and Washington remained grateful to Karimov. A procession of top Bush administration officials trekked to Tashkent to thank the dictator for his services. Donald Rumsfeld, not content with that 1983 photo of himself shaking hands with Saddam Hussein, praised Karimov for his “wonderful cooperation”, while George Bush’s former Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, admired the autocrat’s “very keen intellect and deep passion” for improving the lives of ordinary Uzbeks.

And perhaps this egregious example of sonofabitchism would have remained all but unnoticed had it not been for the past few days. For having ugly friends can only work if people don’t look at your companion too closely – and this week the world saw Karimov in action. When opponents took to the streets last Friday, the dictator ordered his troops to open fire. Uzbek official figures speak of 169 dead; human rights groups estimate the toll at between 500 and 750 – most of them unarmed.

When crowds demonstrated in Lebanon, Ukraine and Georgia, the Americans welcomed it as “people power”. But the brave stand in Uzbekistan brought a different response. Washington called for “restraint” from both sides, as if the unarmed civilians were just as guilty as those shooting at them. In the past couple of days, the tune has changed slightly. Now the state department wants Tashkent to “institute real reforms” and address its “human rights problems”. It is at least possible that Washington may soon decide Karimov has become an embarrassment and that he should be replaced by a new, friendlier face – but one just as reliable. Less of a sonofabitch, but still ours.

Sonofabitchism has always been an awkward business, even in Roosevelt’s day; it hardly squares with America’s image of itself as a beacon in a dark world. But the contradiction – some would call it hypocrisy – is all the greater now. For this is the Bush era, and the Bush doctrine is all about spreading democracy and “the untamed fire of freedom” to the furthest corner of the globe. If that’s the rhetoric, then it’s hard to reconcile with a reality that involves funneling cash to a man who boils his enemies.

Maybe Bush should just break with the past and fight his war for democracy with pure, democratic means. But that would frighten him. Allow elections in countries now deemed reliable – say Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco – and who knows what havoc might be unleashed? Washington fears it would lose its friends, only to see them replaced by the enemy itself: radical Islamists, the force most likely to win democratic contests in large swaths of the Arab world.

That is the conundrum. And yet the case that America, and Britain for that matter, should not only talk the democratic talk but walk the democratic walk is powerful – and not only in pure, idealistic terms. This argument has realpolitik on its side, too.

First, despots make bad allies – who all too often become adversaries. Let us recall two men who once played the role of America’s sonofabitch. In the 80s, the US backed Saddam against Iran and Osama bin Laden against the Soviets. The US gave those men the guns that would eventually be turned on itself.

Second, pragmatic pacts with the devil don’t work. For one thing, by repressing their peoples, tyrannies foment, not prevent, terrorism. But such deals in the name of democracy also taint the very cause they are meant to serve. Thus liberal reformers across the Middle East now struggle to make their case to Arab publics who have grown suspicious that “democracy” means US occupation, a sell-off of oil and Abu Ghraib.

Third, if democracy really is the panacea the Bush doctrine insists it is, then shouldn’t it be trusted to work its magic? Put another way, surely a government that truly represented its people would bring the freedom and stability Washington yearns for – regardless of its political complexion?

Perhaps most reassuring to policymakers would be this fact. Even Middle Eastern democrats themselves are not calling for an overnight revolution; they know that in their stifled societies the only public sphere that exists, besides the state, is the mosque. It is for that reason that if elections were held tomorrow in, say, Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood would take power.

But if the west made the vast financial and military aid it already gives to these regimes conditional on perhaps a three-year programme of gradual liberalisation – lifting emergency laws, allowing proper funding of political parties – then soon some space would open up, terrain occupied neither by the despots nor the mullahs. Different parties and forces could start organising for a future ballot in which they had a decent shot at success.

That surely would be more logically consistent than the current, contradictory reliance on tyrants to advance the cause of freedom. And it might have a chance of working in practice – even in a place as benighted as Uzbekistan.

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The US and its ‘special’ dictator

By Pepe Escobar writing in the Asia Times

“I am delighted to be back in Uzbekistan. I’ve just had a long and very interesting and helpful discussion with the president … Uzbekistan is a key member of the coalition’s global war on terror. And I brought the president the good wishes of President Bush and our appreciation for their stalwart support in the war on terror … Our relationship is strong and has been growing stronger.”

– US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Tashkent, February 2004

Uzbekistan dictator Islam Karimov’s army, which last Friday opened fire on thousands of unarmed protesters in Andijan, in the Ferghana Valley, has been showered by Washington in the past few years with hundreds of millions of dollars (US$200 million in 2002 alone) – all on behalf of the “war on terror”.

So you won’t see the White House, or Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, hammering Karimov. You won’t hear many in Washington calling for free elections in Uzbekistan. The former strongmen of color-coded, “revolutionary” Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan were monsters who had to be removed for “freedom and democracy” to prevail. So is the dictator of Belarus. Not Karimov. He’s “our” dictator: the Saddam Hussein of Central Asia is George W Bush’s man.

‘Either with me or against me’

This is what happened in Andijan. Twenty-three local businessmen – who even resorted to hunger strike – have been on trial since February, accused of “Islamic terrorism”. They were part of Akramia, a small Islamic movement whose platform privileges economic success over ideology and religious fundamentalism. Soon after they had set up a construction company – and apparently also a mutual fund – to help local people get a few jobs, the businessmen were arrested.

Washington has listed the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) as a terrorist organization. Hizbut Tahrir (HT) – which does not condone armed jihad – may soon follow, as Washington always follows Karimov’s leads. In Uzbekistan, any opposition against the Karimov system is considered terrorism. Karimov blames HT for a series of bombings – which the group vehemently denies – as well as unspecified al-Qaeda-connected organizations (it was the IMU which was responsible for the 1999 bombings in Tashkent). According to Alison Gill of Human Rights Watch in Uzbekistan, Karimov’s security apparatus cracks down heavily on HT, but now Akramia is also a target.

The group was founded in 1992 by a math teacher, Akram Yuldashev, and it’s in fact a splinter group from HT. It’s very popular with relatively educated youngsters in the Ferghana Valley – as it promotes a direct connection between an honest, pious Islamic way of life and economic success. Amplifying the Islamic tradition of zakat, Akramia also insists that part of business profits must be consecrated to help the poor and the needy. Yuldashev has been in jail since 1999. His wife, a defense witness at the trial, vehemently denied that Akramia’s teachings encouraged political subversion: it’s all about economic freedom.

Last Thursday, exasperated protesters close to the 23 businessmen organized a commando raid to release them, taking over the local administration center – with many also demanding for Karimov to go. According to the protesters, had they not acted this way, the 23 would have been condemned, tortured and killed: that’s how it works in the Karimov system. The next day came the bloodbath. Galima Bukharbaeva, on site for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, described a column of armored personnel carriers firing at will – and unprovoked – at the protesters. As many as 500 may have been killed, including women and children, and more than 2,000 wounded. People were angrily protesting against the corruption of the Karimov system, which they blame for their appalling living conditions. Karimov blamed it all on “terrorist groups”. The White House copied him almost verbatim.

Seven decades of the Soviet system imprinted their atheist mark on Uzbekistan. This is not an Islamist haven. Talibanization is a deadend (and that’s why the IMU is only a minor sect). The only true national religion is vodka – capable of alleviating even economic distress. Most women in Tashkent use makeup and mini-skirts with thigh-high boots. HT preaches peaceful jihad. The Karimov system’s repression is relentless. All Muslim organizations and even mosques have to be registered. Sheikhs need a work permit issued by the government. If you don’t pray in a state-sanctioned mosque and wear a long beard, traditional turbans or a hijab, you can go to jail.

A throne drenched in blood

When Uzbekistan became an independent republic in 1991 Karimov operated a classic emperor’s new clothes facelift: exit the communist apparatchik, enter the president; exit Marx, Lenin and Stalin, enter Tamerlan. Karimov, stony face and vacant eyes, is the new Tamerlan – without the conquering spirit (Tamerlan built an empire stretching from Egypt to the Great Wall of China).

The legendary, last nomadic ruler of the Central Asian plains used to order pyramids of skulls to be erected after battles to better terrify subdued populations. Karimov relies on proven “counterinsurgency” torture methods with a macabre, creative touch (immersion in boiling water) thrown in. He once declared, on the record, that Islamists should be killed by a bullet in the head – exactly like scores of wounded may have been killed in Andijan by the Uzbek army, according to some witnesses. In 2004, Human Rights Watch released a book with more than 300 pages of case studies in Uzbek torture. One of the key objectives of torture is to give the US “intelligence” connecting the Uzbek opposition – any kind of opposition – to al-Qaeda and “terrorist groups”. Once again: the Karimov system regards any kind of opposition as “terrorism”.

Everything in Uzbekistan is Soviet/clannish, Karimov-controlled. Practically every square inch in every neighborhood (mahalle ) in Uzbekistan is under surveillance by the so-called “White Beards” – the system’s informants. Karimov’s only weakness is his daughters. Gulnara Karimova, the eldest, practically owns the country – factories, mobile phone companies, travel agencies, the nightclubs where the micro-power elite dances to Russian techno. There may be lots of gas, oil and cotton – but the majority of 26 million Uzbeks subsist with less than a dollar a day. The currency – the som – is virtually worthless: 0.0007 euros. Changing money in Tashkent can become a war operation lasting a full hour.

Rosebud

If Orson Welles could remake Citizen Kane (Citizen Karimov?) Uzbekistan’s Rosebud would be Khanabad. Khanabad embodies a graphic post-Cold War irony. It used to be the biggest Soviet airbase during the 1980s war in Afghanistan. Now it hosts the Americans – ostensively serving to help the “war on terror” in Afghanistan.

The Washington-Tashkent “special relationship” started as early as the mid-1990s, during the Bill Clinton administration. In 1999, Green Berets were actively training Uzbek Special Forces. Khanabad has nothing to do with Afghanistan: Bagram takes care of this. But Khanabad is crucial as one of the key bases surrounding Bush’s Greater Middle East, or to put it in the relevant perspective, the Middle East/Caucasus/Central Asia heavenly arc of oil and gas. It’s on a seven-year lease to the Pentagon, due to expire in late 2008.

So Karimov in Uzbekistan is as essential a piece in the great oil and gas chessboard as Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. Inevitably, there will be more uprisings in the impoverished Ferghana Valley that has reached a boiling point. Karimov again will unleash his American-funded army. The White House will be silent. The Kremlin will be silent (or dub it “green revolution” – by Islamic fundamentalists, as it did with Andijan). Corporate media will be silent: one imagines the furor had Andijan happened in Lebanon when Syrian troops were still in the country. Uzbeks in the Ferghana won’t be valued as people legitimately fighting for freedom and democracy: they will be labeled as terrorists. And Rumsfeld will keep cultivating a “strong relationship” with Karimov’s Rosebud.

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The Metro – 60 Second Interview with Craig Murray

The Metro – 60 Second Interview: by Kieran Meeke, May 17th, 2005

As Britain’s Ambassador to the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, Craig Murray spoke out against the human rights abuses of the US-funded regime long before the recent massacre. He lost his job last year and stood against Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in the General Election to protest against Western policy in the region and the war in Iraq.

You warned more than a year ago that Uzbekistan would explode. How angry are you to see it happening?

It gives me no pleasure to be proved right. It’s interesting to see the hypocrisy of Jack Straw and others claiming they are doing something. We’ve long known that this was a terrible regime and it was bound to lead to public protest. And we knew that the regime would act viciously against that protest. President Karimov has the arrogance that comes from knowing he has the support of both Washington and Moscow.

President Karimov of Uzbekistan is a brutal dictator but he’s our dictator. Discuss.

Yes, that’s very much the American line. They argue that our alliance with Karimov is a necessary evil, like our alliance with Stalin in Word War II. There is no such comparison. The only factor driving radical Islam in Central Asia is people despairing at the regime and the lack of any democratic alternative.

What happens next?

Not much. We’ll see more hypocrisy from the US and the UK, calling for everything short of actual change. Democratic elections within a year are the only thing that will defuse the situation. There is no sign we’re going to call for that, nor that we’re going to stop calling Uzbekistan ‘our ally in the war on terror’, nor that the US is going to stop giving the regime a few hundred million dollars a year. There’s no sign Jack Straw will stop using intelligence from the Uzbek security services which is extracted by torture. Coming out of the torture chambers will be people ‘admitting’ they were working for Osama Bin Laden, and Washington will give some credence to all that nonsense.

Intelligence produced through torture is bad intelligence. Why are the CIA addicted to it?

Well, it’s plainly immoral and illegal. Secondly, it’s rubbish. But while the material is untrue, that doesn’t mean it’s not useful. The US Government is delighted to have material that says the Uzbek opposition are Islamic militants. It gives them the excuse to go on backing Karimov.

Is the ‘War on Terror’ a genuine threat or a fantasy from the intelligence services?

A great deal of it is a fantasy. The intelligence about weapons of mass destruction wasn’t true, either, but it was extremely useful. The same is true of intelligence that allows former Met Police Chief John Stevens to say there are 200 Islamic terrorists active in Britain. Active Islamic terrorists, prepared to sacrifice their own lives, but they haven’t managed to kill anyone yet. Not very good terrorists, are they? It’s all complete rubbish designed to keep the population in a state of fear. Tanks at Heathrow to keep a suicide bomber off a plane? It’s plainly bollocks – hype.

We topple an evil dictator in Iraq, yet support an evil dictator in Uzbekistan. Why the paradox? You can’t believe Tony Blair and Jack Straw are evil or stupid.

There certainly are evil people in the White House and the Pentagon. The decision has been taken that, in the war on terror, Britain should be extremely close to the US. Jack Straw finds the alliance over Uzbekistan distasteful but he’s held his nose and got on with it. The Americans are cynical; their interest in Central Asia is all about oil and gas. We back a dictator in Central Asia to get access to oil and gas, and we remove a dictator in Iraq to get access to oil and gas. Explain American policy in terms of freedom and democracy and you get a contradiction. Explain it in terms of oil and gas and it’s completely consistent.

60 SECONDS EXTRA!: Well, the US is the world’s greatest economy. It’s your business to get rid of anything threatening your fuel supplies. What’s wrong with that?

Well, they want to get access to it so they can burn it up as quickly as possible in their massive gas-guzzling cars and with a total lack of concern for energy conservation. They will drive forward global warming.

60 SECONDS EXTRA!: But they don’t believe in global warming…

They claim not to. You have to tie in this political stance to their refusal to sign the Kyoto Agreement. That’s what makes it all so bloody disastrous.

60 SECONDS EXTRA!: To deny the reality sounds stupid, almost insane.

It’s not insane to the interests promoting it. They stand to make huge fortunes in oil and gas. It’s the energy companies who are the lobbyists for the non-existence of global warming. They are just pursuing a very narrow personal interest, which is typical of America. Often they are stupid and their policy in Uzbekistan is extremely stupid. They are going to create Islamic fundamentalism. But this is all in the interests of the military establishment – a bigger threat means more money, better pay, more jobs etc. I seem to have developed a very cynical world view.

What can a Metro reader do?

Write to their MP. As someone who has worked in the Foreign Office, I can tell you it has much more effect than you might think. The MP passes it on and it has to be answered within a week. Six letters and they think the electorate is fascinated by this subject. Write and demand free elections in Uzbekistan and demand we stop calling it an ally.

60 SECONDS EXTRA!: You gave the voters of Blackburn a unique opportunity to judge Jack Straw’s conduct. They rejected you. Should you now shut up?

It’s amazing that 2,000 people voted for someone with no backing, banging on about Uzbekistan. I didn’t enter the election with any thought that I might possibly win and I can think of nothing worse than sitting in Parliament with all those boring farts. I intended to make a point and I did.

60 SECONDS EXTRA!: Do you support ID cards?

Completely appalling idea. As a diplomat, I used to boast that Britain was a free country where you could walk around without a policeman demanding to know who you are. I’ll certainly refuse to carry one. What will happen with illegal immigrants? You can’t deport half-a-million people. Are you going to lock up everyone who refuses to carry them? Will terrorists who forge passports be stumped by forging an ID card or stealing one? It’s claimed to be a cure for everything short of the common cold but it’s an extraordinarily expensive non-panacea.

Craig Murray has urged the public to write to MPs calling for free elections in Uzbekistan, and demanding that Britain stops calling Karimov’s murderous regime our “ally”. Having worked in the Foreign Office, Craig has seen how much of a difference a letter to an MP can make.

To support Craig’s call, you can write to your MP via www.faxyourmp.com – it’s quick, easy and free!

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(Financial Times) Winds of change reach central Asia

The Financial Times – Winds of change reach central Asia: It was only a matter of time before the Bush administration’s professed desire to spread democracy, especially among Muslims, collided with the obstacle of an undemocratic US ally such as Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan.

Difficult though it is to be sure of the facts – that is one of the troubles with tyrannies – Mr Karimov’s forces seem to have killed large numbers of his opponents since the start of an uprising in Andizhan on Friday. Some reports say more than 500 have died.

Mr Karimov, who has ruled since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, has blamed criminals and Islamic radicals linked to the Hizb-ut-Tahrir movement. That is probably a self-serving attempt to paint all the government’s critics as terrorist fanatics. More likely, Uzbeks are inspired by the overthrow in March of Askar Akayev, president of neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

Unlike in previous uprisings in Ukraine and Georgia, western nations concerned about central Asia do not have the option of backing a pro- democracy movement and letting history takes its course. Unrest in Uzbekistan is driven almost entirely by domestic discontent with Mr Karimov’s cruelty and economic mismanagement, and even if he were ousted there is no guarantee that a democratic government would take his place.

One of the few westerners to emerge from recent events with any credit is Craig Murray, the former British ambassador in Tashkent. He resigned after protesting about his government’s use of dubious information obtained under torture from detainees in Uzbekistan. The US, on the other hand, has been uncharacteristically quiet, with the White House admitting that Uzbeks want a more democratic government but suggesting lamely that this should not be achieved by force.

Unfortunately for US policymakers, Uzbekistan is not an irrelevant tinpot dictatorship. It is the most populous state in central Asia, is seen as a vital ally in the war on terror, and is home to a US air base that made an important contribution to the success of US military operations in Afghanistan. The problem is that Uzbekistan, in the words of Human Rights Watch, also has a “disastrous” human rights record. This combination has led to hand-wringing in Washington.

Speaking to the BBC, Dana Rohrabacher, the Republican congressman, half-heartedly defended US ties with Mr Karimov by comparing them with US support for Stalin during the second world war, and argued that critics of Uzbekistan should bear in mind its support for the war against terrorists.

It may not be long before someone quotes Franklin D. Roosevelt and argues that at least Mr Karimov is “our sonofabitch”. But such ruthlessness is bad policy in today’s connected world. If the US really wants to spread democracy and freedom, it cannot expect to exempt its tyrannical allies from the democratic movement it helped launch in the Middle East, eastern Europe and central Asia.

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(Times): Ready, steady, cook up reasons for supporting the boiling butcher

The Times – Ready, steady, cook up reasons for supporting the boiling butcher:ISLAM KARIMOV, President of Uzbekistan, boils people alive. Why? For the same reason Saddam Hussein put his enemies in a shredder: because, at the time, he could.

When the West is your pal you are able, quite literally, to get away with murder. And what murder! It is a surprise Karimov has time for governing at all, once he has spent the morning formulating new ways to poach, grill, tenderise, smoke and flamb’ his citizens to death. Boiling water, electrocution, chlorine-filled gas masks, drowning, rape, shooting, savage beatings, Karimov’s Uzbekistan is the absolute market leader in torture right now. The CIA would not shop anywhere else, which is why a mysterious Gulfstream 5 executive jet routinely delivers terrorist subjects from Afghanistan there for interrogation and, perhaps, percolation. Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador, drew attention to this last year, and the noted socialist Tony Blair acted immediately. He sacked him.

Mr Murray’s warnings echo louder than ever now, on the back of hundreds of corpses in the streets of Andijan. Uzbek troops opened fire on an unarmed crowd of protesters on Friday in an act of such brutality that the world finally woke up to the wickedness of the war on terror’s new best friend. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, called it a ‘clear abuse of human rights’ ‘ no kidding, Sherlock ‘ but struggled to make his voice heard among our American allies. Little surprise. If they had wanted his opinion, they would surely have given it to him.

Live and don’t learn would appear to be the moral to this story. Karimov may be a vicious, murdering, malevolent despot, but he is our vicious, murdering, malevolent despot so, like Saddam, he can boil, shred and gas away until we tire of uses for him. Saddam was in the right place, sharing our hostility towards Iran at the right time, and so we armed him to the teeth in the name of a cause. Karimov, a nasty member of the regional Soviet hierarchy even before independence in 1991, stands beneath another flag of convenience. He is frightened of Islam, rich in gas and oil, and within striking distance of Afghanistan. An American airbase, which Karimov allowed to be built at Khanabad, now protects the American-owned pipeline carrying Central Asia’s black treasure through Afghanistan to the sea. Is it not strange that all our pals have the same thing in common? Just as celebrities end up latching on to other celebrities, so the West always finds itself hanging out with guys who are knee-deep in four-star.

The reason only the West could set the Iraqi people free was because our military and financial support for Saddam Hussein’s corrupt Government had made it impossible for his citizens to rise up alone. So it is in Uzbekistan. When Kabuljon Parpiyev, one of the leaders of the doomed Andijan protestors, spoke to Zakir Almatov, the Uzbek Interior Minister, at the weekend, he claims that he was told: ‘We don’t care if 200, 300 or 400 people die ‘ we have the force.’ It is the backing of the coalition that makes Karimov cocksure and invincible. There are countries around the world that would choose true freedom overnight: if only the coalition’s freedom-junkies would let them.

In 2002, the United States gave Uzbekistan $500 million in aid (as opposed to $36 million four years earlier) of which $120 million went to the army and $79 million to the notorious SNB, Karimov’s secret police. It was the SNB who boiled Muzafar Avazov, an Islamist activist, to death, having already beaten him severely and ripped his fingernails out. The fate of his fellow prisoner Husnidin Alimov does not bear thinking about, considering the Government restricted viewing of his lifeless body. It was also the SNB who came to collect Avazov’s 63-year-old mother, Fatima Mukhadirova, sentenced to six years’ hard labour for the crime of telling the world about the murder of her son. (She was released the day before Donald Rumsfeld was due to visit, during which he praised ‘the wonderful co-operation we have received from the Government of Uzbekistan’ over the War on Terror.)

So the freedom our precious coalition claims to be exporting around the world is not true freedom at all. Rather, it is freedom we are giving back, having conspired with sadists to take away. What the Iraqi people enjoyed at the polling booths in January was freedom on our terms, not theirs. Considering the dreadful human toll, one would think we would then acknowledge that mistake by not repeating it, but no: there were no opposition parties in Uzbekistan’s last election and there are no arms restrictions imposed by our Government, either. Questioned on thisin Parliament in December 2003, Bill Rammell, the junior Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister, said: ‘Uzbekistan is a key player in a region of strategic importance to the UK, so defence co-operation is important. It is important to note that Uzbek armed forces are not implicated in human rights violations.’ In other words: go boil your head. Oh, sorry, you already have done.

We mould these little monsters such as Saddam, Karimov and General Manuel Noriega and they do our dirty work until such a time when it is no longer expedient, at which point we extract revenge and dress it up as a moral crusade; or enduring freedom. There are those who believe that, whatever its motives, the war in Iraq can be justified by free elections and the removal of Saddam. Yes, but only if that policy is consistent. If the coalition agenda is to spread democracy worldwide, then it cannot be in bed with a tyrant like Karimov. And if it is, then any good in Iraq is overpowered by the stench of death and hypocrisy wafting across from central Asia.

As it stands, the War on Terror finds an exalted place in its ranks for a man whose idea of government is a dissident casserole. Hey, Tony, what’s that smell? I think your freedom’s done.

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Craig Murray (Guardian): What drives support for this torturer

The Guardian – What drives support for this torturer: The bodies of hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in Uzbekistan are scarcely cold, and already the White House is looking for ways to dismiss them. The White House spokesman Scott McClellan said those shot dead in the city of Andijan included “Islamic terrorists” offering armed resistance. They should, McClellan insists, seek democratic government “through peaceful means, not through violence”.

But how? This is not Georgia, Ukraine or even Kyrgyzstan. There, the opposition parties could fight elections. The results were fixed, but the opportunity to propagate their message brought change. In Uzbek elections on December 26, the opposition was not allowed to take part at all.

And there is no media freedom. On Saturday morning, when Andijan had been leading world news bulletins for two days, most people in the capital, Tashkent, still had no idea anything was happening. Nor are demonstrations in the capital tolerated. On December 7 a peaceful picket at the gates of the British embassy was broken up with great violence, its victims including women and children. So how can Uzbeks pursue democracy by “peaceful means”?

Take the 23 businessmen whose trial for “Islamic extremism” sparked recent events. Had the crowd not sprung them from jail, what would have awaited them? The conviction rate in criminal and political trials in Uzbekistan is over 99% – in President Karimov’s torture chambers, everyone confesses.

But the torture by no means ends on conviction. In prison there is torture to make you sign a recantation of faith and declaration of loyalty to the president. And there is torture to make you sign evidence implicating “accomplices”. It was at this stage that the infamous boiling to death of Muzafar Avazov and Husnidin Alimov took place in Jaslik prison in 2002. I expect the government will take care that the 23, if not already dead, die in the mopping up.

You may think I exaggerate. Read the 2002 report by Professor Theo van Boven, the UN special rapporteur on torture, in which he denounced torture in Uzbekistan as “widespread and systemic”. Human Rights Watch last year produced a book with more than 300 pages of case studies. One of the uses of Uzbek torture is to provide the CIA and MI6 with “intelligence” material linking the Uzbek opposition with Islamist terrorism and al-Qaida. The information is almost entirely bogus, and it was my efforts to stop MI6 using it that led ultimately to my effective dismissal from the Foreign Office.

The information may be untrue, but it is valuable because it feeds into the US agenda. Karimov is very much George Bush’s man in central Asia. There is not a senior member of the US administration who is not on record saying warm words about Karimov. There is not a single word recorded by any of them calling for free elections in Uzbekistan.

And it’s not just words. In 2002, the US gave Uzbekistan over $500m in aid, including $120m in military aid and $80m in security aid. The level has declined – but not nearly as much as official figures seem to show (much is hidden in Pentagon budgets after criticism of the 2002 figure).

The airbase opened by the US at Khanabad is not essential to operations in Afghanistan, its claimed raison d”tre. It has a more crucial role as the easternmost of Donald Rumsfeld’s “lily pads” – air bases surrounding the “wider Middle East”, by which the Pentagon means the belt of oil and gas fields stretching from the Middle East through the Caucasus and central Asia. A key component of this strategic jigsaw fell into place this spring when US firms were contracted to build a pipeline to bring central Asia’s hydrocarbons out through Afghanistan to the Arabian sea. That strategic interest explains the recent signature of the US-Afghan strategic partnership agreement, as well as Bush’s strong support for Karimov.

So the Uzbek people can keep on dying. They are not worth a lot of cash, so who cares? I travelled to Andijan a year ago to meet the opposition leaders, and kept in touch. I can give you a direct assurance that they are – or in many cases were – in no sense Islamist militants. They died an unwanted embarrassment to US foreign policy. We will doubtless hear some pious hypocrisies from Jack Straw. But when I was seeking funding to support the proto-democrats, the Foreign Office turned me down flat.

The US will fund “human rights” training in Uzbekistan but not help for the democratic opposition, in contrast to its policy elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. When Jon Purnell, the US ambassador, last year attended the opening of a human rights centre in the Ferghana valley, he interrupted a local speaker criticising repression. Political points, Purnell opined, were not allowed.

The western news agenda has moved the dead of Andijan from the “democrat” to the “terrorist” pile. Karimov remains in power. The White House will be happy. That’s enough for No 10.

‘ Craig Murray was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004

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