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News Update
30-06-05, 19:09
Uzbekistan: Is The Country Headed For Regime Change?

By Jeffrey Donovan

Prague, 30 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Is the regime of Uzbek President Islam
Karimov heading toward a violent end?

Given the Uzbek leader's tight grip on power, such a prediction would seem
to be bold, if not downright brash.

Yet that is precisely what the essay this week in "Jane's" -- along with
some Western analysts -- is predicting following last month's unrest in

Filip Noubel is the Central Asia program director for the London-based
Institute for War and Peace Reporting. He spoke with RFE/RL today, a day
after Karimov was in Moscow to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"There is a lot of warning going on in Andijon: people are still being
arrested, relatives of victims, a lot of journalists and human rights
activists have been harassed. So obviously, the regime is not looking at
any kind of compromise. And Karimov's trip to Moscow and Putin's
declarations are a clear indication that it's not going toward any form of
compromise. On the other hand, the people of Uzbekistan do not want to put
up with this system any more. So really the only alternative is actually
very strong confrontation," Noubel said.

During his Moscow visit, Karimov said the Andijon unrest was planned and
financed from abroad. Putin backed that position.

The unsigned "Jane's" essay rejects the idea that the events in Andijon
were planned abroad or involved Islamic militants. It says the events were
the climax of months of pent-up frustrations and nationwide protests.
"There is probably nothing beyond socio-economic conditions that connects
the various manifestations of stability," the piece says.

It goes on to state that "it is likely that the country is now beyond a
point where the government can control unrest using violence, although this
will not stop it trying."

Karimov's regime currently has unchallenged control of the country's
security forces, which include an extensive intelligence service.
Opposition groups have yet to produce a unifying leader and are divided
between parties advocating peaceful change and armed militant groups.

Analysts such as Noubel interviewed by RFE/RL largely agreed that
Uzbekistan is fast approaching a major crisis. But not all of them appeared
to agree that Karimov's regime is necessarily heading toward a violent end.

Alain Deletroz is vice president of the International Crisis Group, an
organization that works on conflict prevention. In an interview with
RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, Deletroz rejected the idea that the unrest in
Uzbekistan has anything to do with plots from abroad.

Deletroz said a possible way for Karimov to avoid further bloodshed and
retain power as well is to allow modest economic and political reforms.

"What the U.S. and the Russians can do and should do is push Mr Karimov
into a corner and tell him, 'Now, if you want collaboration with us, you
have to implement a few reforms.' I don't believe that [someone from abroad
can decide] about coming in and taking power. You can do that only if you
are ready to put your army in the country, which the United States has done
in Iraq, and you see that the result is not that brilliant," Deletroz said.

Still, some analysts say reforms might not unseat Karimov so much as help
him retain power.

Martha Brill Olcott, a Central Asia expert with Washington's Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace, made that point this way in a recent
interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.

"If he has economic reform, and some degree of political opening, then I
think the West will reverse its position and he will manage to retain power
and could well avert cataclysm. The question you're really asking is what
will happen if he's isolated and if he does not have economic reform in any
way and if there are more popular protests. Well, then, at a certain point,
force will become less viable as an option, but it's very hard to say at
what point that becomes true," Olcott said.

Deletroz, meanwhile, suggests that Karimov could find a way out of his
predicament by copying former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who
unexpectedly announced Putin to be his successor at the end of 1999.

"One of the ways out would be if Mr. Karimov at some point would try to
prepare a successor for himself, a little bit the way Yeltsin has done in
Russia -- a younger man with a better understanding of the century in which
we are all living, the 21st century, and a better understanding of where
the heavyweights are," Deletroz said.

Deletroz adds that there are people in the Uzbek government and bureaucracy
who could run the country, if given the chance.

Noubel, who spoke with RFE/RL from his base in Bishkek, says one other way
change might occur is through a rebellion of senior officials.

"I think the entire question -- but of course it's a very secret world,
quite dark, very divided among clans and personal ambitions -- is whether
there will be enough people around Karimov who will say, 'We don't want to
be associated with Karimov any more. If the regime changes, we have to
think about the future, then maybe we should think about an alliance and
maybe reach out to some outside opposition.' That's sort of a more
optimistic possibility," Noubel said.

But even if that happens, the essay in "Jane's" predicts that powerful
Uzbek elites are likely to press any new leader to stop reforms that
negatively impact their interests.

In that case, the piece concludes, "It will be difficult for Uzbekistan to
avoid becoming a failed state."

(RFE/RL's Uzbek and Azerbaijani services contributed to this report.)