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Major Civil Unrest Not Imminent

By News Briefing Central Asia
Tensions are growing in Uzbekistan as consumer prices rise steeply, but NBCentralAsia commentators say people are too frightened to stage mass disturbances in the wake of the violence in Andijan in 2005, when hundreds were killed by government troops.

Rising inflation has fuelled civil unrest - on September 3, dozens of residents of Oltiaryq district of Fergana region took to the streets in protest against escalating food prices. Other demonstrations were reportedly held in the cities of Andijan and Namangan, also in the Fergana valley.

The price of flour has doubled to one US dollar per kilogram since the beginning of August and there are periodic bread shortages throughout the country.

The Ahborot-Uz website reported that an opinion poll conducted in late August found that 44 per cent of respondents believed that instability could lead to a coup in Uzbekistan, while 46 per cent said that President Islam Karimov’s administration would never allow that to happen.

It is not clear how many people were interviewed for the poll or where it was conducted, but NBCentralAsia commentators believe the poll’s findings are accurate, saying that Karimov has the military might to repel any move to overthrow the government.

In May 2005, protesters in Andijan stormed a military garrison and a prison following demonstrations against the trial of 23 businessmen accused of being Islamic extremists. The next day, May 13, government troops opened fire on a large crowd which had gathered in the city centre, killing hundreds.

Afterwards, Karimov said that “soldiers will not hesitate once the order has been given”, and NBCentralAsia observer Alisher Afzal says those words are stamped in people’s memories.

Small outbreaks of unrest are possible, but “serious trouble” is out of the question, he says.

Independent sociologist Rahim Karimov believes the rising price of bread – the stable food in Uzbekistan - may give rise to some unrest, but he argues that there will be no coup because “tensions will subside once the food price situation improves”.

Uzbekistan is currently in political limbo. Under the constitution, a presidential election must be held in the same year that the leader’s seven-year term expires. Karimov, who has been president since 1991, was last inaugurated in January 2000, meaning that he will effectively have served an eight-year term by the time the election comes in December.

The election is now fast approaching, but Karimov has not said a word about it even though Uzbek law does not allow a president to serve more than two consecutive terms.

An independent journalist from Uzbekistan, who asked to remain anonymous, believes Karimov has ruled out the idea of handing over power, and will do everything he can to hold onto the presidency.

(NBCentralAsia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)

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