MOSCOW: President Islam Karimov was born in the historic town of Samarkand in 1938, and rose to become first secretary of the Communist party in Uzbekistan and then the country’s first president in 1990 but a series of fraudulent elections and referendums have extended his rule.

The country’s two key products, cotton and gold, are produced under strict state control, with child labour being used to farm the former. The impoverished sprawl of its capital city, Tashkent, is adorned with huge glass-fronted buildings. Mr Karimov’s family and inner circle, it is claimed, dominate most industries.

The Uzbek security services’ record has come under renewed scrutiny after Washington declared Tashkent its ally in its “war on terror”, after Mr Karimov let the US open a much-needed airbase in Khanabad to support Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Human rights groups have documented the regime’s torture of dissidents, often those associated with Islamic groups and based in the country’s restless eastern Ferghana Valley.

Blame for the current unrest “lies squarely with the desperate Karimov regime”, said Imran Waheed of Hizbut Tahrir, the London-based Uzbek organisation to which the 23 arrested men were allegedly linked.

The former UK ambassador to Tashkent, Craig Murray, said: “People come to me very often after being tortured.

Normally this includes homosexual and heterosexual rape of close relatives in front of the victim; rape with objects such as broken bottles; and use of boiling liquids including complete immersion of the body.”

The reclusive Mr Karimov told Uzbek radio, according to BBC Monitoring, that such dissidents “must be shot in the forehead! If necessary, I’ll shoot them myself.” —Dawn/The Guardian News Service

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