Karimov’s rehabilitation: Uzbek leader arrives for EU talks
Uzbek President Islam Karimov is on his first official visit to Brussels since the European Union lifted sanctions against his government.
The sanctions were imposed in 2005 after the brutal suppression by the government of a popular uprising in the Uzbek city of Andijan.
International rights groups have been urging the EU to raise the issue of human rights with the Uzbek leader.
News of his visit sparked uproar among activists and Uzbek dissidents abroad.
Many have expressed concern that the president of the European Union, the head of Nato and even the king of Belgium are meeting the leader of a country that has one of the worst human rights records in the world.
The sanctions against the government of Mr Karimov, who is now visiting the EU’s Brussels headquarters, were lifted two years ago.
There had been a travel ban for top Uzbek officials as well as an arms embargo, following the 2005 mass protests in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan.
Government troops reportedly opened fire on mainly unarmed protesters. Rights groups claimed that almost 1,000 people were killed.
The Uzbek authorities put the number of dead at 187 but never allowed an independent investigation into the events.
Uzbekistan’s relationship with the West changed following the Andijan uprising.
Dozens of Uzbeks were jailed, while several hundred sought sanctuary in Europe. Western NGOs and media were expelled from the country.
But in recent years there has been something of a thaw in relations.
The country borders Afghanistan and plays an increasingly important role as a transit country for Nato non-military cargo.