Straw criticises Uzbek ally as former envoy demands sanctions

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As more details emerged of the bloody suppression of an uprising in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan, the British Government tried to distance itself from President Islam Karimov, an erstwhile ally in the "war on terror".

As more details emerged of the bloody suppression of an uprising in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan, the British Government tried to distance itself from President Islam Karimov, an erstwhile ally in the "war on terror".

Jack Straw , the Foreign Secretary, called for openness on the number of casualties and urged the Tashkent regime to allow the international Red Cross to help the wounded.

"The situation is very serious," he said. "There has been a clear abuse of human rights, a lack of democracy and a lack of openness. We don't know exactly the number of casualties but plainly quite a number of people have been killed or have been injured as a result of protests against the government." Mr Straw said Britain's ambassador was meeting Uzbek officials yesterday to reiterate Britain's call for transparency and "to allow the Red Cross and other foreign observers in".

His comments provoked an angry response from the Tashkent government and from Britain's former ambassador, Craig Murray, who was sacked after criticising the regime's human rights record.

The Uzbek foreign ministry issued a statement expressing surprise about critical statements by Mr Straw, "who, being thousands of kilometres away from Andijan, was so well aware of the details of the clashes in that city". The foreign ministry added: "From where has Jack Straw learnt that law enforcement had 'opened fire on demonstrators' if that did not take place at all?"

President Karimov said rebels who seized a state building belonged to the outlawed Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. "I know you want to know who gave the order to fire at them," a visibly angry Mr Karimov told a news conference in Tashkent. "No one ordered [troops] to fire at them." Mr Karimov, who has been in power since 1989, said 10 police and soldiers had been killed and 100 wounded.

Mr Murray, who left the Foreign Office after accusing the British Government of using intelligence gained through torture by Uzbek authorities, said: "Jack Straw may say the situation is serious, but talk is cheap. And other than talk, Britain has done nothing. How much money has the Government spent supporting democratic movements in Uzbekistan? The answer is virtually bugger all.

"I was always told to refer to Uzbekistan as 'our ally'. Is Jack Straw saying that Uzbekistan is no longer our ally?"

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