EU divided over Uzbek sanctions

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The Independent Online

Sanctions imposed by Europe on Uzbekistan over human rights abuses are likely to be scaled back this month, prompting divisions over EU efforts to expand its influence in Central Asia.

Although an arms embargo is almost certain to remain in place, there is pressure to lift a visa ban on 12 Uzbek officials, and to unfreeze high-level talks.

The measures were taken in protest at the shooting of at least 180 civilians in Andijan. But unless there is agreement from all 25 EU nations, the sanctions will expire on 17 November.

At a meeting with the EU this week, Uzbekistan is expected to offer to hold a human rights dialogue and to discuss Andijan.

Many EU members want a judicial investigation into the massacre, and punishment of those responsible.

But Germany has argued that the visa ban has been ineffective since only eight of those named remain in their posts, and five are in a minor position.

Germany's critics claim that it is motivated by commercial and energy interest in Uzbekistan. But Berlin said a failure to construct a dialogue with Uzbekistan was counter-productive.

That position could be supported by France and Spain. However, the UK is pushing for a tough line and said there was a strong case for sanctions to continue.