Uzbek soldiers 'killed hundreds'

Not about the Arab world, but an important story in light of recent events in Central Asia and a test of the US' democratization policy and how it applies to authoritarian regimes in countries where the main opposition is Islamist.

(CNN) -- Hundreds of people have been killed by government soldiers in the wake of violent anti-government protest in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan, Russia's Interfax news agency report human rights monitors as saying.


A U.N. official and news reports said Saturday that Uzbeks fled to neighboring Kyrgyzstan as well toward the Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad.


The violence began Thursday when a group of local citizens angry about the arrest of several prominent business owners stormed the prison where they were being held.


At one point, about 10,000 protesters gathered in the city center to demand the resignation of Uzbek President Islam Karimov and his government, who are allies of the United States. The president's office described them as criminals and extremists.


President Karimov on Saturday blamed the violence on the Islamic radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir and said their goal was to establish an Islamic state and to destroy the current constitutional system.


Karimov, speaking at a news conference in the capital Tashkent, said he never gave an order to shoot as the unrest unfolded. He said 10 police were killed but on the criminal side "many many more were killed and hundreds wounded."


Hizb ut-Tahrir denied accusations it was behind the violence. "The blame ... has to be with Islam Karimov and his oppressive regime which has tortured and jailed thousands of innocent victims," Imran Wahid, a Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesman in London, told Reuters.


"We want to undermine and overthrow the regime of Islam Karimov by peaceful means," he added.


Karimov is probably Central Asia's worst dictator, but he was an instrumental ally in the invasion of Afghanistan and has hosted a US base since then. His regime, according to a widely-distributed speech by former British ambassador Craig Murray, does things like killing people by boiling them. Hizb ut-Tahrir (official site) is an international Islamist movement with a strong presence in Pakistan and some Central Asian countries, as well as a much more modest presence in the Arab world. It seeks to restore the Caliphate which ended with the fall of the Ottoman empire. Its headquarters seem to be in London.

My question is, what does George W. Bush has to say about this? It's not an easy question, but it seems to me his democracy drive needs to be better defined to deal with issues such as the one of whether Uzbekistan's bases are worth an alliance with a regime that is more unsavory than that of many "rogue states."
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.