Britain calls for international access to eastern Uzbek city following violence

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Monday condemned the violent crackdown on protesters in Uzbekistan and demanded that journalists, the Red Cross and ambassadors be given access to the affected areas.

"We remain very concerned indeed about the accounts which we have received of troops opening fire on civilians in Andijan," Straw said. "This plainly cannot be justified."

He said David Moran, Britain's ambassador in Tashkent, had met on Monday with the country's foreign minister and had called for immediate access to Andijan for the Red Cross, the U.N. refugee agency, and for journalists and ambassadors. Straw said Moran was assured such access might be organized by Tuesday.

"If a visit can take place in which European Union ambassadors and journalists are able to see for themselves the situation on the ground, that obviously would very greatly assist," Straw said.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has blamed Islamic extremists for the uprising, in which protesters stormed a prison, freed inmates and then seized local government offices before government troops put the protest down by force. The violence was Uzbekistan's worst since gaining independence in 1991.

Straw said Britain accepted the need for "firm action" to deal with terrorism. "But that has to be in the context in which there is respect for human rights and in addition to that there is progress toward democracy," he added.


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