Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Uzbek Opposition Asserts Government Increases Repression THE FORMER SOVIET UNION

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Uzbek Opposition Asserts Government Increases Repression THE FORMER SOVIET UNION

Article excerpt

LEADERS of the struggling democratic movement in the former Soviet Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan charge that the government is carrying out a wave of repression against democratic and Islamic opponents.

The democratic activists warn that suppression of democratic rights will only breed further resistance and strengthen the more extreme Islamic fundamentalist wing of the antigovernment movement. They point to the example of neighboring Tajikistan where civil war continues to rage even after the recent overthrow of the former Communist-led government by a coalition of democratic and Islamic groups.

"In a half a year, we will have the same situation as Tajikistan," predicts Abdul Rahim Pulatov, co-chairman of Birlik (Unity), the largest democratic organization.

The events in Tajikistan have clearly shaken the Uzbek government of former Communist leader Islam Karimov. He has spoken frequently about the danger of the spread of Islamic fundamentalism to the other Muslim-populated Central Asian republics. The Uzbek border has been closed to refugees from the Tajik civil war, and Uzbek troops have been dispatched to join Russian soldiers in trying to stem the flood of arms and Islamic guerrillas across the Afghan-Tajik border. Spread of conflict

Uzbekistan, the largest of the Central Asian states with a population of 18.5 million, is considered particularly vulnerable to the spread of the Tajik events. More than a million Tajiks live within its borders and Islamic belief is strongly entrenched, especially in rural areas where the underground fundamentalist movement is rapidly gaining adherents.

The Birlik movement advocates Western-style democracy and is oriented toward the more secular model of Turkey. But Birlik, like its democratic allies in Tajikistan, is cooperating with the banned Islamic Revival Party.

Birlik leader Pulatov, however, distinguishes between more moderate elements of the Islamic movement and its fundamentalist wing. He argues that the Islamic movement has far more opportunity to reach people through the mosques than the democratic movement, which is effectively barred from public activity.

"People who have already lost faith in the Communist regime are afraid to join the democrats but not afraid to join the Islamic movement," Mr. …

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