US moves to cut off aid to Uzbekistan

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The Independent Online

Uzbekistan, whose leader famously had a jailed opponent boiled to death, is to lose the bulk of its American aid because of its human rights abuses, prompting calls for Britain and the European Union to follow suit.

Uzbekistan, whose leader famously had a jailed opponent boiled to death, is to lose the bulk of its American aid because of its human rights abuses, prompting calls for Britain and the European Union to follow suit.

The United States plans to take the unprecedented step of cutting all military aid and some economic assistance, worth $18m a year, to punish the central Asian state for its harsh policies aimed at stamping out political dissent.

The decision was signed by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, on Monday night, according to Washington sources. But the move must be approved by Congress, the State Department said last night.

"This is a major step for the US to take such a position and cut aid on human rights grounds," said Human Rights Watch central Asia expert, Acacia Shields, speaking from New York. "The EU should now match the US in taking a similar principled position."

The West's patience with the country's Soviet-era leader, Islam Karimov, has gradually run out after a high point in relations after 11 September when he was seen as a bulwark against Islamic radicalism.

Uzbekistan hosts a US military base which was used for missions in Afghanistan.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development scaled back lending to Uzbekistan in April to protest against the lack of progress on human rights and economic reform.

The US has been criticised for allowing its military agenda to appear to be driving relations with Uzbekistan rather than issues of democratisation and reform, which has only encouraged Mr Karimov to continue to ride roughshod over human rights. Britain's ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has been in the forefront of attacks on Mr Karimov. Mr Murray, who has been censured by the Foreign office for his public criticisms of Mr Karimov, has publicly highlighted the contradiction between US support for the Uzbek regime and its invasion of Iraq for similar human rights abuses.

Mr Karimov has waged a 10-year war against the opposition and any expression of Muslim identity that he doesn't approve of. His prisons are estimated to hold up to 10,000 political and religious prisoners.

He has been accused of taking advantage of attacks by Islamic militants, which according to the authorities are linked to al-Qa'ida, to crack down further on political opponents.

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