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Russia and Uzbekistan Sign Alliance Agreement


Russian President Vladimir Putin strengthened ties with the leader of Uzbekistan in Moscow on Monday just as a controversial trial was ending back in the Central Asian state. All fifteen defendants were sentenced to lengthy jail terms for their alleged role in an uprising in which human rights groups say hundreds of civilians were killed in May.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave Uzbek President Islam Karimov the red-carpet treatment in a show of support for a leader who has come under increasing criticism in the West.

Mr. Karimov came to Moscow to sign what both leaders call an alliance treaty to establish a "long-term foundation" for closer bilateral ties.

The document outlines ways for Russia and Uzbekistan to expand military and economic cooperation.

Mr. Karimov says the two countries are striving to reach a new, deeper level in their relations. He adds that the most outstanding thing for him is that Russia has agreed to make this move.

Just as the two leaders began meeting, fifteen people were sentenced to jail terms of from 14 to 20 years for their role in a May uprising that President Karimov blamed on Islamic radicals aimed at overthrowing his government.

But most Western governments strongly criticized the crackdown, where Uzbek government troops fired on a large crowd of demonstrators who rallied after an attack on a city jail.

Human rights groups say at least 700 people were killed in the violence, mostly unarmed civilians who were protesting difficult economic conditions and lack of political freedom.

However the authorities say just under 200 people were killed, and have even blamed foreign journalists for instigating the incident.

The Andijan events ultimately led Mr. Karimov to order Washington to withdraw troops it had stationed in Uzbekistan during the war against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan in 2001.

The Uzbek leader was angered when Washington helped airlift refugees who had fled the Andijan violence out of the region. He has also rejected calls from the US and European Union for an investigation into exactly what happened during the unrest.

Russia and China, however, strongly backed Mr. Karimov in what they called a necessary use of force to "fight terrorism and separatism."

All three have joined with other regional states in calling for the United States to ultimatly withdraw all of its forces from the region, although Kyrgyzstan has said U.S. troops based there can remain for now.

A leading Russian newspaper warned on Monday that the new "alliance" could become a serious liability for Russia if political unrest erupts again in Uzbekistan.

A sign of the changes came in September when Russian and Uzbek troops held joint military exercises.

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