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EU scraps last Uzbek sanctions

EU scraps last Uzbek sanctions

The European Union on Tuesday dropped the last remaining sanctions against Uzbekistan imposed after a 2005 crackdown on an uprising.
EU foreign ministers said they ended the arms embargo against the Uzbek government to encourage it to further improve the human rights situation and the rule of law in the country.
The phasing-out of sanctions came after the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation helped support U.S.-led military operations in neighboring Afghanistan, leading to better ties with the West.
The sanctions were imposed after government troops opened fire on a crowd of mostly peaceful protesters in Andijan, a city in the east of the country, four years ago, killing at least 700 people, according to rights groups and witnesses. The government insisted 187 died and blamed Islamic militants for instigating the violence.
Despite the normalization of relations, EU ministers said in a statement they remain "seriously concerned about the human rights situation." The EU did acknowledge that Uzbekistan has made some tentative commitments to address human rights issues.
Amnesty International said that four human rights activists have recently been convicted while 10 more are already serving long prison sentences. Dozens more are being persecuted, it said. The human rights group said authorities continue to deny full access to U.N. monitors.
President Islam Karimov has ruled resource-rich Uzbekistan with an iron fist since before the 1991 Soviet collapse. He fell out of favor with the United States and other Western countries after the government's violent suppression of an uprising in the city of Andijan in 2005.
Karimov has recently sought to mend ties with the West, and the fighting in Afghanistan offered an opportunity because NATO allies have been seeking safer transit routes.