|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 2-324727 Britain / Uzbekistan (L-O)
TITLE=BRITAIN / UZBEKISTAN (L - O)
HEADLINE: British Foreign Secretary Calls for International Inquiry into Uzbekistan Violence
INTRO: British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is calling for an independent, international investigation into the outbreak of violence that occurred last Friday in the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan and that may have left hundreds dead. VOA's Serena Parker files this report from Washington.
TEXT: Mr. Straw says the Uzbek government should take immediate steps to address the situation in Andijan, where violence between Uzbek forces and local citizens left hundreds dead and sent residents scurrying across the border into neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
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"I therefore call on President Karimov to agree to full and immediate access to Andijan for non-governmental organizations, for international agencies and diplomats on the ground."
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President Islam Karimov, the authoritarian leader who has ruled Uzbekistan since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, maintains that 169 people were killed in clashes between soldiers and Islamic extremists. Human rights groups say some 700 people were killed when security forces fired on the large crowd of unarmed demonstrators.
Today (Wednesday) the Uzbek government escorted a group of foreign diplomats and reporters to the town of Andijan to see some of areas affected by last Friday's violence, but Mr. Straw said the highly supervised visit was not enough.
According to Mr. Straw, who is in Washington where he held talks last night with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, says the best way to figure out what happened is to hold an independent, international investigation.
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"That means a credible and transparent investigation with, for example, the involvement of appropriate international bodies. The form of the inquiry is obviously for discussion but it must have credibility in the eyes of both the international community and of the Uzbek people."
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The Karimov government has been a key ally in the Bush administration's global war on terror, going as far as to allow U.S. forces to use an air base to support operations in Afghanistan. Human rights groups have reacted unfavorably to the Bush administration for its muted criticism of the Uzbek regime.
Secretary of State Rice has sharply rejected the criticism and said Washington has pressed for reform in no uncertain terms. Her counterpart, Mr. Straw, defended the West's engagement with Uzbekistan, despite the Karimov government's poor human rights record.
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"We also have relations with Uzbekistan, as we do with a number of other countries in similar circumstances, and it is our judgment that it is better to have those relations than not have those relations. And not only because we have interests in Uzbekistan in terms of their strategic position -- and we're perfectly open about that -- but also because we and indeed the whole of the European Union, as well as I think the United States, believes that we are in a greater position to achieve change in Uzbekistan if we are there arguing for it than if we've detached ourselves from that country."
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Mr. Straw encouraged the Uzbek government to take action to address the root causes of the discontent and to develop a much more open and pluralistic society in Uzbekistan. (SIGNED)
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