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Huge Celebration Expected for Uzbekistan's 10th Independence Anniversary - 2001-08-17

The Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan will observe the tenth anniversary of its independence in two weeks. The government plans a huge celebration. But some people say it is costing too much money.

Ten years ago, a statue of Lenin dominated the landscape on Uzbekistan's Red Square. Now the Lenin statue has been replaced with a gold globe whose most prominent feature is a map of Uzbekistan. On Thursday, cadets from a military college were marching through what is now Independence Square in preparation for the country's tenth anniversary celebration.

Uzbekistan, like many of the other republics of the former Soviet Union, declared its independence shortly after the failed coup, in August of 1991, that led to end of the Soviet Union.

On September 1, the country will observe ten years of independence, and President Islam Karimov is going all-out in preparing for the country's birthday celebration.

Teams of workers are laboring around the clock to finish eight bridges in different parts of the city. Old buildings have been torn down in order to make way for parks. Lots now filled with bulldozers and dirt will soon be planted with grass and flowers. And, almost every streetlight and building in Tashkent is decorated with a green, white, and blue Uzbek flag or a banner congratulating the country on its anniversary.

The headline in one newspaper proclaims "Ten years: on the road to a great future!"

More than 5,000 girls from around Uzbekistan were brought to Tashkent last month to practice the dance they will do at the anniversary festivities.

Feruza Koshakova, a 17-year-old student, is delighted by the celebrations. She says that it is Uzbekistan's independence day and for every country, independence day is important. And besides, she says, it is quite fun and interesting.

But not everyone in Uzbekistan is celebrating, especially those who are poor, and there are many of them. Most people make less than $15 a month and pensioners receive about $3 a month from the state. One Uzbek man who sells paintings to tourists in Tashkent criticized how much the government is spending on celebrations. He says Uzbekistan is still a young nation and the money that is being spent on the celebrations is simply too much. He also criticized the government for closing off the roads into Tashkent and said the celebrations more closely resemble a military operation than a celebration for the people.

The man refused to give his name. Many people are hesitant to talk with journalists or say anything critical about the country's president.

The Uzbek president has been criticized by international human rights organizations for cracking down on free speech and having his political opponents arrested.