The 5-Minute Briefing: The Uzbek uprising

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The Independent Online

What started the uprising in Andijan?

The violence was prompted by the trial of 23 local businessmen charged with inciting Islamic unrest.

Witnesses say a group of men attacked a police station and military unit, stole weapons, and then overran the prison where they freed the businessmen and others. The rebels then occupied the regional government headquarters in the city centre. Several thousand protesters and onlookers gathered. Troops were sent in and gunned down hundreds of people outside a school, including 10 police being held hostage by the rebels.

Who do the Uzbek authorities blame for the deaths?

President Islam Karimov claims the rebels are "armed criminals" linked to the outlawed Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir. They deny involvement, stating their opposition to violence. Mr Karimov, criticised in the West for jailing thousands of dissident Muslims, frequently says Uzbekistan faces a threat from militant Islam and points to bombings and shootings that killed 50 last year.

Who do local rights groups blame for the uprising?

Saidzhakhon Zainabitdinov, the local head of human rights group Appeal, said the 23 businessmen on trial were "humble people and pious Muslims" with no extremist tendencies. They used to gather to read an unpublished book by a jailed Muslim theologian, Akram Yuldashev, and they had set up a charitable organisation to help the poor in Andijan He said they were not extremists. During their trial, the men were accused of belonging to an extreme sect called "Akromiya", which Mr Zainabitdinov said was an invention of the security services. He denied there had been any "rebels" in Andijan, and said the men were set free by relatives and friends. This became a catalyst for an uprising fuelled by years of economic malaise and official corruption. "Maybe my comparison will seem a little too elevated but like the Bastille prison in France, the local jail in Andijan was a symbol of tyranny and injustice for all of us, so it was doomed to fall one day," he told Reuters.

How has the international community reacted to the violence?

The US has feted Tashkent as an ally in the "war on terror" and maintains a military base close to the border with Afghanistan. The State Department has barely mentioned the loss of civilian life and instead said Washington was particularly concerned about the escape of prisoners, "including possibly members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an organisation we consider a terrorist organisation". In contrast to the US stance, the EU put the blame squarely on the government for the bloodshed, saying the protest was the result of a lack of respect for human rights or the rule of law and of a failure to alleviate poverty. The EU spoke of protesters but not rebels. Russia said it denounced "the provocation by extremists in Uzbekistan".