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An ‘Anti-Terror’ Tyrant

President Islam A. Karimov of Uzbekistan has wrapped himself in the flag of anti-terrorism and done well by it: hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid, a U.S. military base that demonstrates the close ties between Tashkent and Washington, and bland statements from the United States about his country’s appalling human rights record.

But the killing of civilian demonstrators by government forces in an eastern Uzbekistan city last week demands a public outcry from the U.S. That may not be in Karimov’s interest, but so what? A dictatorship that allows no meaningful political opposition fails to serve the broader interests of the country or its friends. It drives support toward the only groups able to organize against the government: Islamic fundamentalists.

Uzbekistan is the largest country in Central Asia, with 26 million people. It is desperately poor, which was a factor in the demonstrations. Protesters said they wanted more freedom and better living conditions. When armed assailants staged a raid on a prison and freed inmates, including 23 businessmen allegedly allied with a banned Islamic group, demonstrators took advantage of the confusion to protest in the streets.

Witnesses said troops opened fire on demonstrators, killing several hundred and wounding many others. The government Tuesday denied shooting civilians, saying all those shot were armed “terrorists” who were killed by “rebel” guns. Karimov also accused foreign media of calling his regime a tyranny. That’s precisely what it is. Thousands of political prisoners are in jail. Torture is common. The government controls the practice of Islam. The rare outbreaks of protest always end with Karimov cracking down, saying he’s only fighting terrorists.

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The United States should condition at least some of its aid on greater political and religious freedom in Uzbekistan; otherwise, Karimov’s warnings about terrorism and increased violence may become self-fulfilling prophecies.


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