George Bush’s government smears its opponents as “supporters of tyranny”. Yet recent events in the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan have exposed how the US government backs one of the world’s most repressive regimes.
Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s president, ordered troops to fire on unarmed protesters in the eastern city of Andijan last week. Eyewitnesses estimate that 500 people were killed. Karimov claimed the protesters were “Islamic terrorists”.
The US government echoed Karimov. “We are concerned about the outbreak of violence, particularly by some members of a terrorist organisation,” said US spokesperson Scott McLellan.
“We urge the government and the demonstrators to exercise restraint. The people of Uzbekistan want to see a more representative and democratic government, but that should come through peaceful means.”
Craig Murray was Britain’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, until he was sacked for speaking out against the government’s complicity with human rights abuses there. He said the White House’s concern for democracy was “damage limitation”.
“This line that people in Uzbekistan should protest peacefully is ridiculous. How? There’s no free media there and political parties are banned,” he told Socialist Worker. “The idea that the demonstrators included Islamic terrorists is bollocks. The US hasn’t put any backing into the democratic opposition in Uzbekistan. Nor is it setting a time scale for greater democracy or calling for elections as it did in Ukraine and Georgia.”
The US backs Karimov with $500 million a year because of Uzbekistan’s strategic location. The US has a huge permanent airbase there, 15 minutes flying time from Iran and less than one hour from Russia and China.
The protests in Andijan were sparked when 23 local businessmen were arrested on trumped-up charges of Islamic militancy. Many of the demonstrators were workers at factories that had been shut down when the businessmen were arrested. The Uzbek government has now sealed off Andijan.
“I’d like a revolution to spread, but I fear it won’t,” says Murray. “I spoke to people in the capital of Tashkent. Many had no idea that anything had happened. This was 48 hours after headlines across the world media.”