Saturday, May 21, 2005

Uzbekistan: the domino effect?

Central Asia : Unstable forecast. Uzbek President Islam
Karimov may be the next authoritarian head of state to
fall in former Soviet Central Asia, but he is unlikely
to relinquish power peacefully.


"The rising tide of unrest in Uzbekistan is destabilizing
the increasingly authoritarian regime of President Islam

Karimov - who has been president of Uzbekistan since
1990 - shares much in common with other regional
survivors from the Soviet era. He became first
secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan in 1989
and has since managed to hold onto his position despite
independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. However,
his record in office has been controversial.

Any challenge to Karimov's rule is routinely branded
'Islamic extremism' and the president has responded with
characteristically colourful language, as well as with
armed force. For example, during a spate of violent
incidents in March 1999, he announced: "I am 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 myself would rip off
his head."

Although there have been small protests against the
government previously - including a tiny demonstration
involving around 60 people in the capital Tashkent
earlier this month - widespread opposition in the
eastern city of Andijan represents the most serious
challenge to Karimov's authority. Amid unconfirmed
reports that as many as 500 people may have been killed
and thousands of others wounded during a security
crackdown by Uzbek military forces, hundreds of refugees
have already fled across the border into neighbouring
Kyrgyzstan. There is a significant ethnic Uzbek
population living in the border area.

Unlike Askar Akayev, Karimov's fallen counterpart in
Kyrgyzstan, the Uzbek president is unlikely to withdraw
from his country in order to avoid further bloodshed.
This determination to crush all opposition by force
means that further military repression can be expected
as discontent with the regime in Tashkent mounts amid
popular anger over the deaths in Andijan. Uzbekistan is
set to be the next 'domino state' in Central Asia, but
the revolution can be expected to come at a far higher
price than in Kyrgyzstan."

end of quotes

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