Uzbek militants seek Western media attention during May 13 uprising

A witness in the trial of 15 men suspected of organizing an uprising in Uzbekistan said Monday that some of the militants sought the attention of Western media.

Abdukarim Almatov, an elderly taxi driver, said two gunmen forced him to take them to the city hall building where a BBC reporter waited to interview them during the May 13 uprising in the eastern city of Andijan.

The Central Asian nation's government appears to be using the carefully choreographed trial to try to refute accusations that government troops killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in their crackdown on the protest and to back up its allegations that the unrest was funded and organized by extremist Islamic groups from abroad.

Many defendants and witnesses in the trial that began last month claimed that Western correspondents were giving instructions and advice to the uprising's participants - the testimony that conformed to officials' claims, the AP reports.

The rights groups allege the confessions in the trial have been coerced through torture. Human rights groups and refugees who fled to Kyrgyzstan claimed the government killed more than 700 people who were trying to flee Andijan's main square. The ex-Soviet republic's government said 187 people died, mostly militants.

The uprising's participants and witnesses said they were protesting against rights abuses and economic hardship.

The uprising began when militants seized a prison and freed 23 businessmen who were being tried for alleged extremism. Thousands of demonstrators then gathered in an adjacent square to complain of economic conditions. A.M.

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