11/15/2005, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN
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Sentences ranging from 14 to 20 years for Andijan "terrorists"

Court finds defendants guilty of attempted coup as part of an Islamist plot to take power. The international community condemns the ruling as "unjust". Russian President receives Uzbek President Karimov in Moscow.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Uzbekistan's highest court found 15 men guilty on Monday of an Islamist terrorist plot in the town of Andijan, after a trial condemned by the United States as unfair. The court sentenced the men to between 14 and 20 years in prison for "terrorism, attempts to overthrow the constitutional order, aggravated murder and the seizure of hostages".

The judge who read the sentence said the accused received "terrorist" training in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and staged an uprising in Andijan as part of a plot to set up an Islamic caliphate in Uzbekistan.

However, eyewitnesses who were in Andijan on May 13, including a western reporter, said Uzbek troops fired at a crowd of men, women and children who had gathered in the main square after armed men broke 23 local businessmen out of jail.

Although hundreds of people were killed, the authorities said only 187 people died— mainly "foreign-paid terrorists".

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said there were "doubts about the adequacy of the defence, and it appears that little evidence was presented during the trial, apart from confessions".

During the trial defence attorneys neither challenged statements by prosecution witnesses nor check them for accuracy. Furthermore, doubts persist about the confessions extracted from the accused, which, for some, were obtained after threats were made against their families, torture used, and psychotropic drugs applied.

The trial has been widely criticised around the work. The United States condemned the ruling and said it was considering sanctions against Uzbekistan, whilst the European Union banned arms sales to the Central Asian country.

"These convictions are based on evidence that isn't credible and a trial that isn't fair," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters.

But hard-line President Islam Karimov received a warmer reception in Moscow, where he and President Vladimir Putin signed a pact pledging mutual help in fighting security threats.

Moscow, which hitherto had poor relations with Tashkent, has backed the Uzbek President Karimov after the May 13 incidents.

"The strengthening of Russia's position in Central Asia is a solid guarantee of stability in the region," Karimov said.

After the Andijan massacre, China was also quick to back the Uzbek leader and received him on an official visit a few days later. (PB)

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