Saturday, May 14, 2005

Massacre in Uzbekistan

Uzbek soldiers shot at thousands of civilian demonstrators in Andijan yesterday. The BBC reports that:

[t]he violence erupted after days of peaceful protest in the eastern city of Andijan, against the imprisonment of 23 local business leaders accused of Islamic extremism.

A mob reportedly seized arms from a local garrison, before raiding the prison where the men were held and freeing them, along with thousands of other inmates.

They also took control of administrative buildings in the city and took government workers hostage, according to reports.

Just before dusk, troops moved in and opened fire on the crowds in the city square

According to the Guardian:

Lutfulo Shamsutdinov, the head of the Independent Human Rights Organisation of Uzbekistan, said he had seen bodies of about 200 victims being loaded onto trucks near the square in the city of Andijan.

A witness in central Andijan told the Associated Press that "many, many dead bodies are stacked up by a school near the square" where the uprising took place.

Daniyar Akbarov, 24, joined the protests after being freed from the prison during the earlier clashes.
"Our women and children are dying," he said with tears in his eyes, beating his chest with his fists. Mr Akbarov said he had seen at least 300 people killed in the violence.

The city's hospital was cordoned off and officials could not be reached for casualty figures.

An AP reporter said she saw at least 30 bodies. All had been shot, and at least one had his skull smashed. She said there were large pools of blood and hundreds of spent cartridges on the streets.

The Uzbek government is claiming that the demonstrators are 'Islamic extremists'. This claim is utterly ridiculous - and, indeed, it is very doubtful that the 23 local business men accused of Islamism (the men the protesters attempted to free) are 'extremists' either. The Guardian states that the 'Akramiya' group the men are said to be members of is a 'moderate Islamist group' which 'gives Muslims a set of rules for life - including requirements to strive for success and give tithes to the poor'. Even in the unlikely event that they are 'extremists', of course, this does not justify the governments massacre of hundreds of civilians including children, who came out to demonstrate.

The likelihood is, however, the charge of religious extremism is a cover to justify the Uzbek government's crackdown on any sort of dissent. The BBC Comments:

critics say the president is using the threat of extremism as a cover to crush dissent.

Andijan, in the densely-populated Ferghana Valley, has a long tradition of independent thought, and is eyed by the government with suspicion, says the BBC's Monica Whitlock in Tashkent.

Thousands of local people have been locked up.

Along with high poverty and unemployment, it has pushed many people beyond the limit of endurance, she says.

So what has Washington - that beacon of liberty, singlemindedly striving to spread freedom and democracy across the world - got to say about this? According to the Guardian, the Whitehouse is 'urging restraint' (naughty Uzbek dictator) but has 'added that some of the prisoners who had been freed were from a "terrorist organisation". They did not elaborate, and the US embassy in Tashent could not say who they were referring to'.

Allison Gill, Human Rights Watch's representative in Tashkent, however, has said, in response to Washington's claims: "We don't know who they are talking about," said Ms Gill. "The use of the word terrorist is unjustified and plays into Uzbek government policy by justifying torture by calling it anti-terrorist measures."

It's no surprise that Washington is merely 'urging restraint', while simultaneously seeking to imply that the brutal crackdown is justifiable.

the US recruited... [Uzbekistan] as an ally in its "war on terror" in October 2001 - setting up a military base in the southern town of Khanabad to aid operations in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of aid flowed in, with critics accusing the US of turning a blind eye to the torture record of the regime of the president, Islam Karimov.

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