Islamic Revolution in Uzbekistan
Update: Saddam II? Karimov shoots down mostly unarmed demonstrators like dogs. 30 to 50 bodies of young men and adolescents were lying in the street Andizhan. Troops are said to have filled a bus with bodies. I wonder if they are being transported to mass graves?
There's a chance that Karimov is on the skids in Uzbekistan. After five years of crackdown and persecution, the people have taken matters into their own hands. Three dispatches follow from El Mundo (Madrid), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan) and Le Monde (Paris).
Background (from El Mundo): The most populous nation of Turkestan region of central Asia with 26 million inhabitants, Uzbekistan has been under the iron first of President Islam Karimov, 67, since 1989. Karimov has been engaged in a crackdown on Islamists which since 11 September 2001 has earned him the friendship of Washington. The Islamic Party Hizb i Tahir and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, thought responsible for bombings between 1999 and 2001, are alleged to be determined impose a caliphate over central Asia. [The Bin-Laden rap, eh? But I wonder if that is true?--Nur]
Human Rights Watch has harshly criticized the Karimov régime, which has accused the the various NGOs operating within the country of engaging in “subversive activities” in violation of “Uzbek laws with the aim of spreading subversive ideas." There are thousands of political prisoners says HRW, which also denounces the widespread use of torture. Tashkent is believed to be cooperating with the CIA in receiving prisoners for interrogation. It also receives millions of dollars from Washington for its security forces. Since 9-11, the US installed a military base in Janabad to support its military operations in Afghanistan.
The Karimov régime, also involved in border disputes with Tajikistan and Kirgyzstan, has placed land mines along its frontiers to prevent armed incursion by Hizb i Tahrir as happened in 1999 and 2001. It strictly controls the media to shut off dissent. With the opposition in prison or in exile, radical Islamist movements are gaining influence among the population as an alternative to the corrupt régime.
Today's dispatch (El Mundo). Groups and supporters of the Islamic movement, which has a strong presence in Uzbekistan, provoked several incidents of violence in the city of Andizhan. Last night armed gangs attacked a prison and freed hundreds of prisoners. At least 20 protestors are dead according to leaders of popular demonstrations, which have occupied several government buildings. Official Uzbek press agencies report that nine people are dead and 34 wounded in clashes.
The thousands of demonstrators who have taken over the streets of Andizhan and occupied several government buildings admitted to reporters that they are linked to the banned Islamic movement, Akramiya, founded by Akram Yuldashev, who is serving a 15-year sentence for acts of extremism and terrorism according to the Russian news agency RIA--Novosti. Other members of the group were to be put on trial this week. In Uzbekistan, Islamic movements and political parties opposed to the government have become increasingly active among the population.
The people have risen up, says Validzhon Atajondzhoyev, brother of one of the accused, in the online version of the Russian newspaper grani.ru. This morning, more than 10,000 protesters were gathered outside the Andijan regional administration building in eastern Uzbekistan according to the website ferghana.ru. Protestors also occupied secret police headquarters and the city jail, says the Director of the Russian Cultural Center in Andijian, Piotr Volkov, who also reports that the protesters have placed armored vehicles outside the jail. 23 incarcerated Islamic businessmen awaiting trial on charges of Islamic extremism have been freed. Meanwhile, the Russian press agency Interfax reports that state security forces have launched an assault on a school occupied by armed rebels.
The government of Kirgyzstan has closed its border with Uzbekistan due to the unrest. On the Uzbek side of the border, there is a media blackout and foreign camera crews from BBC, CNN and Russian televison have been prohibited from broadcasting images from the disturbances. The president of the country, Islam Karimov, is on the scene.
Russian on-line paper gazeta.ru is reporting that police and snipers had opened fire on the crowds but have since been “neutralized” and taken hostage. Near the site of demonstrations, the local theatre is ablaze and fire crews have stayed away. A local resident told RIA-Novosti by telephone that there are thousands of protesters in the main square of the city. The demonstrators have asked Russia's Vladimir Putin to personally to mediate the crisis to prevent more bloodshed.
Banners reading, They shoot down unarmed citizens demanding their rights! are displayed as well as other signs demanding democracy and justice.
A year ago, a wave of suicide bombings by Islamist sympathizers killed 47 people. 33 presumed terrorist, four civilians and 10 police died in attacks on police barracks and building housing security forces in Tashkent, the capital, and in the region of Bujara. 45 Islamists were formally charged with planning the bombings.
Corriere della Sera: Two thousand prisoners have been sprung from a high-security prison as a movie theatre and a playhouse were set ablaze. According to local journalists, insurgents have taken over an army garrison. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry says that the authorities are evaluating the situation.
The city had been rocked by protests over several days demanding the release of 23 persons accused of membership in extremist Islamist organizations and of conducting "anti-constitutional activities" The 23 are also suspected of having founded an Akramiya cell linked to Hizb i Tahir, the banned Islamic party. Andizhan is one of the largest cities in the Fergana Valley, where Islamist groups have a large presence.
Le Monde: Uzbek sources say rebels overrran a military garrison in Andizhan and a police barracks, where they took possession of dozens of weapons. They then attacked a detention center and freed hundreds of detainees. Meanwhile in Tashkent, Israeli embassy guards have shot dead a presumed suicide bomber.