Germany defies EU’s Uzbek ban

From The Australian

MOSCOW: The man accused of leading the massacre of anti-government protesters in Uzbekistan in May is having cancer treatment in Germany, despite being barred last month from the EU.

German officials disclosed yesterday that Zakirjan Almatov, Uzbekistan’s Interior Minister, got a visa in October to undergo a lifesaving operation in Hanover.

Mr Almatov was in charge of security forces who fired on anti-government protesters in the eastern city of Andijan on May 13. The Government says that 187 people died, mostly Islamic militants, but witnesses say up to 500 unarmed civilians were killed.

The EU responded by announcing sanctions on Uzbekistan on October 3, including a visa ban on officials responsible for the bloodshed. It issued a list of 12 names, including Mr Almatov, this week.

EU and German officials said that he was granted a visa because the year-long ban was not in force at the time and allowed humanitarian exemptions.

But human rights activists expressed outrage that Germany, which has a military base in Uzbekistan, had made an exception for one of the ban’s main targets.

Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, said the decision was shameful and scandalous.

Mr Murray was recalled last year after accusing Britain and the US of toning down criticism of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan in exchange for the US military’s use of an airbase on its soil. He said he believed Germany was doing the same.

In July the US was asked to leave its base, a launchpad for its operations in Afghanistan, after joining EU calls for an inquiry into the violence.