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Accused of Rights Abuses, Uzbek Leader Is Welcomed in Brussels

25 gennaio 2011

BRUSSELS — President Islam A. Karimov of Uzbekistan was given the red-carpet treatment on Monday during meetings here with top European leaders, his warmest reception in the West since his government massacred several hundred protesters in 2005.

Mr. Karimov met with both José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, and with Anders Fogh RasmussenNATO’s secretary general. Mr. Karimov did not speak to reporters after either meeting.

Human rights groups were scathing in their criticism.

“Karimov came here to get a photo opportunity, and they gave him that,” said Andrew Stroehlein, a spokesman for the International Crisis Group, which works to prevent human rights abuses. “These pictures will be broadcast in Uzbekistan to legitimize him.”

Mr. Barroso said he discussed specific human rights concerns with Mr. Karimov and urged him to release all of Uzbekistan’s political prisoners.

“The European Union follows a policy of critical, conditional and comprehensive engagement with Uzbekistan,” he said. “I have raised all key concerns of Europe, notably regarding human rights and fundamental freedoms, which stand at the heart of E.U. foreign policy. I believe it is through such a robust eye to eye dialogue, and not an empty-chair policy, that we can further the E.U.’s unanimously agreed policy of engagement most effectively.”

The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic that has significant energy reserves, after Uzbek troops killed several hundred protesters in the town of Andijan in May 2005. The sanctions were considered ineffectual and were lifted four years later. Since then, Mr. Karimov, who refused to allow an international investigation of the Andijan massacre, has met with several European leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

Mr. Stroehlein said such diplomatic engagement can be useful in 99 percent of cases. But with Uzbekistan, he said, “this is the 1 percent of cases where it has failed every time.”

Mr. Karimov, who has been in power since the Soviet Union broke apart 20 years ago, has crushed his political opposition and jailed dozens of human rights advocates. In 2008, when Mr. Karimov began a third seven-year term and received 88 percent of the vote, Human Rights Watch reported that he cared little for democratic values. The United Nations has said that torture is common.

Uzbekistan — which is about the size of California, and with 28 million people is the most populous country in the region — is rich in cotton, gold, gas and oil. An American air base there supported operations in Afghanistan, across its southern border, until the government asked the Americans to leave in 2005 in retaliation over the sanctions.

The United States began warming to Mr. Karimov’s government after the war in Afghanistan began to falter. Uzbekistan still allows Germany to operate an air base out of a southern Uzbek city.

Two years ago, Mr. Karimov made an attempt at international redemption when he scheduled a parliamentary election, although all four parties that were allowed to participate staunchly support his government.

Mr. Karimov acknowledged at the time that “previously, there were no political parties vying for political influence and power,” but that he had injected genuine competition into the process.

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