Uzbekistan and Activists Point to Footage of Rally

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 23, 2006

MOSCOW, June 22 -- Newly released video of the anti-government uprising in the Uzbek city of Andijon in May 2005 shows dozens of armed men mingling with a large crowd of peaceful protesters in the hours before government troops brutally suppressed the demonstration, leaving hundreds dead.

The 109 minutes of video, released by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, provides the first extensive images of events that severely damaged Uzbekistan's relations with the United States and the European Union.

The video, made by two people in the crowd, has been used by Uzbek authorities since the crackdown to prosecute participants.

The video "has obviously been substantially edited, beginning and ending abruptly, and is obviously designed to portray the demonstration in the worst possible light," Martha Brill Olcott and Marina Barnett of the Carnegie Endowment said in a commentary posted on the organization's Web site.

As released, the video contains a selective translation by Uzbek authorities. The New York Times, reporting on the video Thursday, did its own complete translation and showed the video to survivors of the crackdown to identify participants.

The video ends before government troops opened fire on the participants, including women and children, in the late afternoon of May 13, 2005. Andijon is a city of 300,000 in a region with a history of militant Islamic groups.

The video, which has also been distributed by Uzbek embassies, shows gunmen leading away hostages at gunpoint. The Times, after interviewing survivors, identified some of the hostages as firefighters.

The crowd repeatedly shouts " Allahu akbar ," or "God is great."

The Uzbek authorities apparently hoped those images would bolster their case that the demonstration was directed by Islamic terrorists. The video repeatedly focuses on gunmen addressing the crowd. In the background, buildings are on fire.

The video also shows unarmed protesters speaking about justice, according to the Times.

The Uzbek government has not responded to the Carnegie Endowment's release of the video, and no one answered the phone at the country's embassy in Moscow on Thursday night.

Previous investigations of the Andijon events by journalists, diplomats and human rights organizations found that the demonstrations were sparked by an armed group that stormed government facilities and a prison.

They freed 23 local businessmen who were charged with membership in a banned Islamic group, a prosecution that was deeply unpopular in the region. The businessmen were accused of being part of Akramiya, which the government labels extremist but which followers say is a nonviolent, spiritual organization.

That initial revolt was swelled in the following hours by numerous unarmed civilians who joined to protest government repression and poverty in the region.

The video bolsters the claims of the government that this was an armed rebellion and the countercharges of human rights activists that the overwhelming majority of the crowd had no weapons and that the government response was completely out of proportion to the threat.

Survivors said the government gave the crowd no time to voluntarily disperse before security forces opened fire with automatic weapons. Either the end of the protest was not recorded or the footage was not released by the government.

The Uzbek government has refused to allow an independent international inquiry into the events, leading the European Union to impose limited sanctions on the country. After the United States criticized the government crackdown, President Islam Karimov ordered U.S. forces to leave an air base in the country. U.S. forces at the base had been supporting operations in Afghanistan.

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