Central Aphasia

Speechless for so long about Uzbek torture, U.S. helpless while Karimov hunts peasants

© IRIN

Starving for attention: Uzbek peasants camp outside the U.S. embassy in Tashkent during a recent protest. Hours later, Uzbek troops waded into them and busted heads.

Our high-priced spread of "democracy" is leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of 25 million angry Muslims in Uzbekistan as an ominous revolt spreads across Central Asia.

Not even a major clampdown on information by Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov can stop the news of his goonish behavior—CNN reports tonight about the blood in the streets, with 500 corpses laid out on the pavement in the city of Andijan, in the fertile Fergana Valley in eastern Uzbekistan.

By the way, in the coming months, as Central Asia's corrupt "republics" crumble, you'll be reading all about the strategically key Fergana Valley, by the way.

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Neighboring Kyrgyzstan's dictator, Askar Akayev, has already been driven out. Karimov is thrashing in the final throes of his torturous and tortured reign and, wouldn't you know it, we've been his richest uncle lately.

What's worse for our future credibility with Uzbekistan's next generation of leaders is that Karimov's goons have been cracking heads in the act of defending the U.S. embassy in the capital, Tashkent, according to death-defying dispatches filed by the Institute of War & Peace Reporting's project director in Uzbekistan, Galima Bukharbaeva.

Every new report from Uzbekistan presages the likely overthrow of Karimov—he's unlikely to be hanging with Don Rumsfeld any more—not that Karimov won't be hanging.

For evidence backing that observation, go back a few days to the intrepid IWPR journalist Bukharbaeva's report of the cruel, vindictive, and sorry-ass behavior of the dictator's domos.

It was May 4, and a group of about 70 peasants—mostly women, and some with children—had trekked to Tashkent to demand that the government return a farm it wrongly seized—they were also incensed about having to live in poverty, and they called for government officials to resign. The peasants headed to the U.S. embassy and camped right outside, hoping to stir the U.S. State Department into action. Good luck. The U.S. ambassador, Jon Purnell, has said barely anything about Karimov's insane tortures of the citizenry—unlike his former British counterpart, Craig Murray. On the scene of the protest, Bukharbaeva wrote:

    The group set up tents on the pavement outside the embassy compound and said they would remain there until their demands were met. They chose the venue because they said they would seek asylum in the U.S. if their own government refused to respond.

    Placards and banners called on government officials to resign and called for an end to poverty.

    Although the protest clearly reflected local concerns rather than opposition politics, and there were so many women and children present, the authorities resorted to tough measures.

No surprise, considering that Karimov's government has been known to boil people to death.

Anyway, 50 plainclothes cops and an array of fire trucks, ambulances, and police vans converged on the scene. Here's Bukharbaeva again:

    At 11:20 in the evening, when some of the adults and children were asleep inside the tents, two buses drew up and about 50 people armed with truncheons jumped out. Some were in police uniform and others in camouflage, but most were in plain clothes.

    The demonstrators were so intimidated that they put their hands in the air and called out that they would stop their protest action and go home immediately.

    Their pleas were ignored and the security forces waded in, beating people apparently indiscriminately.

Reports of various broken bones couldn't be confirmed, but the protesters were dragged away, and so were some journalists. A Tashkent cop rescued the journalists. The farmers, who had traveled a long way from their homes in southwestern Uzbekistan, were sent back home. The IWPR report continued:

    A spokesman for the Uzbek interior ministry, Vyacheslav Tutin, said the following day that all the participants in the protest had been put on buses and sent back home. The spokesman said 11 men, 13 women, and 19 children were detained in all.

    Tutin said it was the protesters’ own fault if security forces behaved in a heavy-handed way, because earlier in the day, police and National Security Service officers had been stoned by the crowd.

    Speaking before the evening police assault, protesters said they had thrown stones that morning, but only when members of the security forces attempted to grab a 9-month-old baby from its mother’s arms. They said police retreated after this initial intervention.

Caught in the middle was the U.S. embassy, which issued a statement saying the protesters were simply "exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly accorded them in United Nations conventions," as the IWPR reporter put it. women in the war zone.

That's funny. No such message was forthcoming last summer from U.S. officials when Americans were prevented from protesting at Republican Square Garden during the GOP convention.

Karimov always insists that he's fighting terrorists, but the whole damn country wants to give him the bum's rush. As a United Press International story after the Tashkent protest noted:

    "Having trusted Karimov's promises, we were left with nothing," one protester said. "We can't study. We have no food to eat. We were left on the street with nothing."

    After the group threatened to set up a tent city, police encircled them, and soon after, several protesters were beaten and bloodied by batons, the report said.

The Tashkent protesters were probably lucky that they were merely sent home—if, indeed, that's what happened to them. They had come to Tashkent hungry and stayed that way. As the IWPR's Bukharbaeva wrote:

    It did appear that the protesters were an unusually vulnerable group. They began their action without providing themselves with food and water. For the first few hours, residents of a nearby apartment block supplied them with tea and water until police ordered them to stop, so by the evening they were in no fit state to go on.

    A foreign observer present on the scene said it made no sense to use crude force against such an unthreatening group of people who could easily have been persuaded to end their protest.

    "Brute force against a group of women and children and the deployment of resources en masse may, on the one hand, demonstrate the power of the state. On the other hand, it may be a sign of cowardice," said the Westerner, who asked not to be named.

Karimov's regime won't last much longer, unless the U.S. intervenes in his behalf—there's a huge U.S. base in the country. But even Rumsfeld and the other handlers of George W. Bush are unlikely to overtly offer the dictator support at this point. Uzbekistan is headed for a major revolution, if the Uzbeks who talked to Bukharbaeva are correct:

Tolib Yakubov of Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan condemned the way the police had acted, and said it seemed inevitable both that the regime would grow ever more repressive and that people would continue protesting against it.

"There’s no other option—either for them or for us," he said.


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