The Central Asia Project director for the International Crisis Group, Michael Hall, says Uzbekistan is continuing to crack down on opposition leaders and human rights activists and is unlikely to change under its autocratic president, Islam Karimov.

In remarks at the Washington headquarters of Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty, Hall painted a dismal picture of life in Uzbekistan.

Hall says President Islam Karimov is using increasingly repressive policies that are causing popular dissatisfaction and social unrest.

He says a turning point came last May in the eastern city of Andijan when armed men stormed a prison and freed local businessmen who were accused of membership in an alleged Islamic extremist group.

Witnesses say when security forces moved in to suppress the uprising hundreds of innocent civilians were killed.

The Uzbek government blames Islamic radicals for the violence, and rejects calls for an independent investigation.

Hall, of the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization that analyzes international conflict zones, says the Andijan violence led to a renewed crackdown by the Uzbek government.

"Andijan was followed by a number of arrests throughout the country of prominent opposition leaders, human rights activists and a number of trials," said Michael Hall. "At the end of last year there were an estimated 150 convictions that have been handed down so far in connection with the Andijan events. Most of these trials have been held behind closed doors."

U. S. State Department officials have expressed concern about secret trials in Uzbekistan, and about the government's repression of human rights.

Hall says western efforts to pressure the Karimov government have largely failed, and Uzbekistan is now turning away from Europe and the United States and toward Russia and China for economic cooperation.

He says the International Crisis Group's analysis of Uzbekistan indicates almost no hope for significant democratic reform.

"I think the possibility of a popular uprising or a so-called color revolution, as we have seen in other parts of the former Soviet Union is extremely unlikely for a number of reasons," he said. "The effective suppression of political opposition, the fact that Karimov has been very adept at playing off different elites against each other and keeping political elites from building up a power base for themselves that might in any way challenge his own."

Hall says the Karimov government's use of massive force in Andijan is intimidating human rights groups and has had a chilling effect on those who might oppose the government.

"The sense that one gets is that the anger is still very much there and not very far below the surface at all," continued Michael Hall. "But still the fear is predominating."

Hall says there is little hope for progressive change in Uzbekistan and says western nations should focus on promoting progress among the other countries in Central Asia.