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Rice Presses Uzbekistan to Allow Probe of Deadly Clashes

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Friday raised the prospect of a further cut in U.S. aid to Uzbekistan if the government of President Islam Karimov continues to resist calls for an investigation of last week's Uzbek political unrest. The United States and other countries have called for a credible probe of the violence that includes international involvement.

Though Uzbekistan has been a major U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, the United States last year cut aid to the Tashkent government over its human rights record and it is threatening to do so again after last week's violent unrest.

Human rights groups and Uzbek opposition activists say hundreds of people were killed late last week when security forces fired on protesters in the northeastern Uzbek city of Andijon.

Uzbek authorities deny there was indiscriminate killing and say most of those who died were Islamic extremists, but they have rejected outside appeals for an independent investigation of the clashes.

At a news conference here with Iraqi Planning Minister Barham Salih, Secretary Rice said the United States has relations with the Karimov government and is using them to urge authorities to respond positively to what she termed the international community's justified concerns about what happened in Andijon.

If it does not, she indicated the Uzbek government could face a repeat of the 11-million dollar aid cut the Bush administration enacted last year under a human rights mandate from the Congress.

"As to what consequences there might be, I think Uzbekistan does not want to endure further isolation from the international community,” said Ms. Rice. “And secondly, I would just note that we have concerns about human rights, which we expressed through a human rights report and which actually have certain certification requirements for any assistance to Uzbekistan. We withheld $11 million last year because of those requirements. There are additional funds that we cannot make available to the government without further human rights certification."

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters some $22 million in aid earmarked for Uzbekistan this year could be withheld if it was determined it was not meeting international human rights obligations.

Mr. Boucher said the United States is pressing for a credible and transparent inquiry into last week's events that includes some international participation.

He said Secretary Rice discussed the issue Friday with Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel in his capacity as chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

U.S. officials have also been in contact with the United Nations, the European Union and the governments of Uzbekistan's neighbors, including Kyrgystan where thousands of Uzbeks took refuge after the violence.