- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 29, 2005

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan — U.S. senators said yesterday that the Uzbek government’s harsh response to an uprising will affect relations with Washington, adding their voices to calls for the Central Asian nation’s leadership to allow an international investigation into the bloodshed.

The visit by Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John E. Sununu of New Hampshire increased U.S. pressure on Uzbekistan to drop its resistance to an international probe amid widely varying death tolls from the violence.

The former Soviet republic is a U.S. ally in the war on terror and hosts an American military base for operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

“Without an international investigation, it will be very difficult to move forward and have the relationship that we would like to have,” Mr. Graham said at a press conference.

The senators said that they had met with members of four main Uzbek opposition parties, but that government officials declined to meet with them.

Unrest erupted in the eastern city of Andijan on May 13, when militants seized a local prison and government headquarters. Uzbek authorities say 173 persons died and deny that they opened fire on unarmed civilians, while rights activists say up to 750 people were killed in the violence.

Mr. McCain said a “complete investigation” should be carried out by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Uzbekistan’s authoritarian president, Islam Karimov, has rejected U.N. and Western calls for an international inquiry, saying Uzbek authorities will conduct their own probe. He has blamed the unrest on Islamic extremists, accusing them of killing hostages and of using civilians as human shields.

The U.S. delegation called on authorities to allow opposition parties and free press and to stop economic repression, saying only such measures would prevent popular uprisings in the future.

“The level of political and economic repression is unsustainable, and it will only serve to stimulate discontent and unrest among the people of Uzbekistan,” Mr. Sununu said.

Uzbekistan’s support for U.S. anti-terror efforts has put Washington in an uncomfortable position after the events in Andijan.

“The United States must make the Uzbek government understand that our relationship is very difficult if not impossible if the government continues to repress its people,” Mr. McCain said.

The U.S. response to the violence was cautious at first, but Washington has joined the criticism of the government’s actions and urged it to allow an international investigation.

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