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Protests at fashion show of Uzbek first daughter

- Associated Press - Thursday, September 15, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - The runway show of Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan's authoritarian leader, took place Thursday across town from official Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week amid protests alleging forced child labor in the cotton fields of her home country.

Karimova was not among the 300 people who showed up. Many were New York-based expatriates from Russia, Georgia and other former Soviet republics.

Organizers said Karimova was not in New York.

The show featuring designs from the Guli Collection was originally scheduled to take place at Lincoln Center with other Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week shows, but fashion week organizers canceled it amid pressure from activist groups.

The show was relocated and held privately in a glamorous event space owned by the restaurant Cipriani near Grand Central Terminal on East 42nd Street, where models walked a runway covered with an Oriental rug.

The women wore long, flowing dresses in pale colors; the men's designs included ethnic flourishes such as blanket-like shawls flung over the shoulder. The clothes were credited to a group of a half-dozen designers who took a bow but declined interview requests.

Outside, about 20 protesters held signs, chanted slogans like "Child labor is a crime, hey Gulnara, it's about time," and handed out flyers with pictures they said showed children picking cotton. Activists also staged a small protest at the Lincoln Center tents, where other Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week shows wrapped up on the last day of spring previews.

Tim Newman, campaign director of the International Labor Rights Forum, said the protests sought to underscore "a broader issue affecting the whole fashion industry. The cotton picked by forced child labor in Uzbekistan makes its way into the clothing that we buy here in the U.S."

Karimova is known for turning up at fashion shows and other jetsetter events around the world like the Cannes Film Festival.

She is considered a possible successor to her father, 73-year-old Islam Karimov, who tolerates no opposition. Uzbekistan, a mainly Muslim nation, is one of the world's top cotton producers. It is also rich in natural gas and gold but many of the almost 28 million inhabitants live in poverty.

Show organizers refused to comment on the protest. A statement from Guli cited "safety and security concerns" as a reason for the relocation.

Anait Kiladze, who helped stage the event, said afterward she felt the show had been a success despite the protests. "It's a beautiful collection," she said. "Fashion is about beauty."

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Associated Press Writer Peter Leonard in Moscow and National Writer Jocelyn Noveck in New York contributed to this report.

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