U.S., UK split over Uzbek violence
Unrest is the bloodiest in Uzbekistan's post-Soviet history. CNN's Hala Gorani reports.
LONDON, England -- Condemnation by Britain of Uzbek soldiers who opened fire on protesters contrasts markedly to the near silence coming from its allies in Washington.
In London, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Sunday slammed the violence in the city of Andijan as "a clear abuse of human rights."
He was speaking as witnesses described how Uzbek soldiers fired into a crowd, including women, children and their own police comrades begging them not to shoot. (Full story)
"I am extremely concerned by reports that Uzbek troops opened fire on demonstrators in Andijan," Straw said.
"I totally condemn these actions and I urge the Uzbek authorities to show restraint in dealing with the situation and look for a way to resolve it peacefully."
The Uzbek government rejected the criticism. "From where has Jack Straw learned that law enforcement had 'opened fire on demonstrators' if that did not take place at all," the foreign ministry said in a statement reported by The Associated Press.
Uzbekistan's authoritarian President Islam Karimov has blamed Islamic groups for sparking the unrest and said he never gave an order to shoot as the unrest unfolded.
The clashes present a quandary for Washington because Karimov is considered a key ally in the fight against terrorism and the U.S. maintains a military base in Uzbekistan to support anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan.
The number of troops at the base, 700 kilometers (430 miles) southwest of Andijan, has at times reached several thousand, according to AP.
The U.S. has urged both sides in Uzbekistan to work out their differences peacefully. But critics say the White House has turned a "blind eye" to the situation.
At a U.S. State Department briefing on Friday, spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States was closely monitoring the situation.
"I would note that, while we have been very consistently critical of the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, we are very concerned about the outbreak of violence in Andijan, and particularly, the escape of prisoners, including possibly members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an organization we consider a terrorist organization."
But former British ambassador to Tashkent, Craig Murray, warned that the Uzbek opposition could become more radical if the West failed to support it, creating just the sort of hardline Islamist movement Karimov and Washington says already threatens the former Soviet country.
"We're actually, if you like, creating the monster we pretend we're fighting," Murray told Reuters.
Murray, London's diplomat in Tashkent from 2002 to 2004, said the West, and the U.S. in particular, had tolerated Karimov's repressive rule because he had allowed Washington to set up an air base and that the U.S. was also interested in central Asian oil and gas.
"I think we need to change our stance and unequivocally call for early, full and fair elections," he said.
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