Andijan ‘terror’ trial nears amid growing tension
TASHKENT: Uzbekistan on Tuesday starts the first trial of more than 100 people it blames for a bloody uprising in the city of Andijan, but many fear President Islam Karimov’s authoritarian rule may spark more violence.
Human rights bodies say at least 500 people, including many women and children, were killed in Andijan on May 13 when troops and security services shot into crowds of protesters.
Officials say only 187 people died and that foreign-funded terrorists who follow radical Islam were to blame for the violence.
The first batch of 15 alleged Andijan rebels will go on trial in Uzbekistan’s Supreme Court on Sept 20 charged with murder, mass unrest and attempting a coup.
But Karimov’s critics say the underlying cause of the Andijan unrest was not Islamic extremism but anger over poverty and rampant corruption which is felt across the country and is likely to erupt into protests again.
Karimov cracks down hard on dissent but the critics also question whether, with no clear prospect of economic or political reforms, force alone will be enough to keep the nation of 26 million people in check. “This repressive policy will lead to nothing good, and more severe shocks may await Uzbekistan,” independent Uzbek analyst Tashpulat Yuldashev told Reuters.
Economic squeeze: Uzbekistan set the trial of the alleged Andijan rioters after rejecting persistent international calls for an independent inquiry into the killings. Karimov defends his methods by saying Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan, is under threat from Islamic extremists who want to overthrow secular rule. Only tough measures can defeat them, he says. But alongside political restrictions, more recently Karimov has also been clamping down on the freedom to do business - the lifeblood of an ancient trading people.
Karimov’s officials launch frequent raids on markets, the engine of the Uzbek economy, often provoking angry protests, and traders have been prevented from bringing in goods from neighbouring countries. Salaries average $50 a month, compared to $300 in Kazakhstan next door with its more liberal economy.
Before the violence started, many of the speakers at the Andijan protest named poverty and corruption as their biggest grievances against Karimov’s rule.
Loyalty tested: The shooting in Andijan was described as a ‘massacre’ by international human rights groups, the European Parliament and a group of US senators. It has also left Karimov loyalists wondering how much longer his rule can survive, said analyst Yuldashev. “Many high-level officials are already thinking how to leave this sinking ship and establish connections in America, Europe or Russia,” he said.
However, Russia and China, vying with the West for influence in the resource-rich region, have backed the use of force in Andijan and enjoy cordial ties with Karimov. reuters