Senate votes to block payment for base use to Uzbekistan

In a move meant to send a message to Uzbekistan, the Senate voted to block the payment of $23 million (Ђ19.25 million) for past use of an air base that the Uzbek government recently said will no longer host U.S. aircraft and troops.

The legislation, approved by voice vote, was added to the $440 billion (Ђ368.3 billion) military spending bill for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The House version of the spending bill does not include the prohibition, and lawmakers will have to work out their differences when they meet to write the final bill.

For nearly four years, the base has been an integral part of U.S. combat and humanitarian missions in neighboring Afghanistan. But in July, the Uzbek government invoked a provision in an agreement that requires all U.S. forces to leave the Karshi-Khanabad base, often called K-2, by January.

Many interpreted that decision as payback for U.S. calls for an international investigation of the Uzbek government's response to violence in the city of Andijan last May that left civilians dead. The episode prompted human rights groups and others to criticize Uzbekistan's human rights record.

The Pentagon intended to pay the Uzbek government the money, prompting protests from senators who said it should be given to the Uzbek government only when it shows that it is again willing to work as a U.S. partner.

Key facts about what exactly happened in Andijan are in dispute. The government blames the violence on Islamic extremists and insists that 187 people were killed - not the more than 700 that rights groups have estimated. The government also denies that its troops fired on unarmed civilians and says authorities were forced to act to prevent an Islamic insurgency from spreading across the ex-Soviet nation and the rest of Central Asia.

The European Union imposed an arms embargo on Uzbekistan, cut aid, and suspended a cooperation accord on Monday to punish the country for refusing to investigate the violent suppression of the uprising, AP reports.

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