Uzbek president blames outlawed Islamist group for deaths

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Saturday, May 14, 2005

Anidjan is the capital of the Andijon province, which includes the Ferghana Valley

Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov blamed Islamic militants for the violence in the eastern city of Andijan. The unrest led to government troops firing on civilan protesters and rebels, killing at least fifty according to local hospital sources. Independent sources count the number of dead over 100.

Today, President Karimov denied directing his troops to open fire, blaiming the outlawed Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir for the deaths following their insurrection.

"I know you want to know who gave the order to fire at them ... No one ordered (troops) to fire at them," Karimov told the news conference in Tashkent today.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing crowds of unarmed protestors being fired upon by soldiers. Human rights groups have lamented Uzbekistan's poor human rights record of torture arbitrary arrest and torture. The White House has called for restraint to avoid further bloodshed. The Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed support for Kamirov in the face of what it terms extremism.

The White House's muted response may reflect the political sensitivity of its air base in southern Uzbekistan which supports its operations in neighbouring Afghanistan. It's widely feared that, should the unrest spread, Uzbekistan may see the popular overthrow of the government as occurred in neighbouring Kyrgystan.