Uzbek opposition says Britain was pressured to recall ambassador

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The Independent Online

Uzbekistan's fractious opposition parties have united to send an open letter to Tony Blair, accusing the hardline government in Tashkent of putting pressure on Britain to dismiss its outspoken ambassador to the central Asian republic.

Uzbekistan's fractious opposition parties have united to send an open letter to Tony Blair, accusing the hardline government in Tashkent of putting pressure on Britain to dismiss its outspoken ambassador to the central Asian republic.

The letter from nine groups, including the main Erk and Birlik parties, "deeply regrets" the British Government's decision to "recall" Craig Murray. The envoy was fired as ambassador to Tashkent last week after details emerged of a memo to the Foreign Office in which he complained that MI6 was using information passed on by the CIA which was obtained from the torture of Uzbek prisoners.

Mr Murray, who was recalled last year to face a disciplinary panel after he aired similar criticisms, wrote: "We are selling our souls for dross," because of the unreliability of such information.

The opposition parties, which are banned from contesting the forthcoming parliamentary elections, addressed their protest letter to Mr Blair, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and the British parliament.

The letter expressed support for Mr Murray, saying that he had "played a significant role" in the development of democracy in Uzbekistan. "It is no secret that in Uzbekistan, the present authoritarian government is seriously violating human rights and democratic principles," it said. "The decision of the British government to recall Mr Craig Murray, in our view, took place under the pressure of the Uzbekistan authorities."

Mr Murray, 45, incurred the wrath of the Uzbek government, led by President Islam Karimov, for speaking out about human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, including the boiling to death of two dissidents. Mr Murray also accused Mr Karimov - viewed by the US as an important ally in the war on terror - of seeking to shore up American support by portraying his crackdown on Islamic extremists as part of the global war against terrorism.

An Uzbek embassy spokesman could not be reached for comment.

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