Thursday, 17 April 2014

Zeman to meet Uzbek president in Prague

3 February 2014

Prague, Jan 31 (CTK) - Czech President Milos Zeman will welcome Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, who has been fiercely suppressing all opposition groups in his country for a long time, in Prague in late February, Zeman's spokesman Jiri Ovcacek told daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) Friday.

Ovcacek said the visit is reciprocal.

He noted that Czech president Vaclav Klaus visited Tashkent in 2004.

For the authoritarian leader Karimov the visit to the Czech Republic will be special. Similar contacts are rather typical of Zeman, however, the paper writes.

It says mostly statesmen from the post-Soviet region have been showing interest in meeting Zeman who has been the head of state since March 2013.

On Thursday, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan arrived in Prague. Zeman has accepted the invitation to visit Armenia.

In the recent years, Karimov paid only two visits to European Union member countries: he went to Latvia last autumn and to Brussels in 2011, the paper writes.

The EU relations to Uzbekistan cooled down after Karimov's regime used armoured vehicles against protesters in the city of Andijan in 2005, killing about 500 of them.

According to HN's information, Karimov will come to Prague on February 21 and he will stay for two days.

The Presidential Office said the Karimov-Zeman talks would include visa affairs, Uzbek students at Czech universities and business cooperation.

"This is of course an example of the new diplomacy where economic interests and money are the most important. And Central Asian states have a lot of money thanks to gas," Czech lower house foreign affairs committee head Karel Schwarzenberg (TOP 09) told HN.

Schwarzenberg was Czech foreign minister in 2007-2009 and 2010-2013. He was known as a critic of authoritarian regimes and violation of human rights, including the former Soviet republics.

Zeman puts great emphasis on economic diplomacy.

The paper writes that the Czech-Uzbek trade has been traditionally rather small.

In 2011, Czech exports to Uzbekistan were worth $57 million, while Uzbekistan exports to the Czech Republic were worth about $10 million. Czech firms export mostly tyres, medicines and machinery to Uzbekistan and Uzbek cotton is imported to the Czech Republic.

The paper recalls that Karimov, 76, has been ruling Uzbekistan since 1990 when he became the Uzbek Communist Party leader. He clearly won the first and last independent elections in 1991. His regime is repressive: most politicians who dared to oppose him ended up in prison or fled the country. Human rights advocates say the conditions in Uzbek prisons are frightening, the paper writes.

Zeman probably will not discuss human rights issues with Karimov. "This issue will be dealt with in consultations with the Foreign Ministry," Ovcacek told HN.

Zeman can hardly pretend not to know about the violation of human rights in Uzbekistan, the paper writes.

When Zeman was Czech prime minister, his government had to deal with the case of Uzbek opposition politician Muhammad Salih in 2001.

Salih was granted asylum in Norway and he was arrested in Prague based on an arrest warrant issued by the Uzbekistan Interpol. He was finally released and had a meeting with Czech president Vaclav Havel.

The Presidential Office said Zeman appreciates Uzbekistan's role in fighting terrorism.

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