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Explosions Target US, Israeli Embassies in Uzbekistan - 2004-07-30

In Uzbekistan, at least two people have been killed and five others injured in a series of explosions near the U.S. and Israeli embassies and the prosecutor's office in the capital. The incidents come at the start of the trial of 15 people suspected of involvement in several explosions in February. There may be other reasons for the blasts as well.

Suicide bombers reportedly detonated explosives outside the buildings in Tashkent, Uzbekistan's capital city.

U.S. and Israeli officials say the blasts occurred on the street near their embassies, killing at least one Uzbek security guard. Another explosion hit the prosecutor's office.

The explosions came as 15 people stand trial for a series of blasts that rocked Tashkent in February which killed almost 50 people.

Those on trial have reportedly confessed to the bombings, which Uzbek authorities say were an attempt to overthrow longtime leader Islam Karimov.

Mr. Karimov has ruled Uzbekistan with an iron hand for years and his government has been accused of committing widespread human rights violations.

But the Uzbek leader says tough measures are needed to combat Islamic fundamentalism in the region.

Several years ago Uzbek insurgents clashed on occasion with soldiers in the former Soviet republic.

They are reported to have taken refuge in neighboring Afghanistan before the fall of the Taleban, and allegedly had links with the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Uzbekistan has played a role in the global war on terror since the arrival of a contingent of American soldiers during the war to oust the Taleban from Afghanistan.

Alexei Malashenko is a Central Asian specialist with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. He says another reason for Friday's blasts might be that Mr. Karimov may send Uzbek troops to Iraq.

"As far as the United States and Israel are concerned, it's a point to show them that they can be reached in each place," he noted. "And as to Islam Karimov, it's also a point to show him that if he continues to declare that he's ready to participate in the coalition that he also may be punished."

Mr. Malashenko said the latest bombings will likely allow Mr. Karimov to crack down on perceived opponents even more, which may only compound the problems in the country.

The United States recently suspended aid payments to Uzbekistan partly due to reports of human rights abuses there.