Uzbekistan violence triggers condemnation  

THE US says it is “deeply disturbed” by reports that troops in Uzbekistan fired on unarmed civilians during a protest in the east of the country. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, has called for political reform in the country following the recent violence. Local sources say several hundred people died when troops shot at unarmed protesters in Andijan last week.

The US has been under pressure to take a tough line against the Uzbek regime, which is a key US ally in the region. British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, was expected to raise the reported killings on a visit to Washington. Straw, who has condemned the violence, said his Uzbek counterpart had given assurances that diplomats would be allowed access to Andijan on Tuesday.

Human rights organisations and a leading US Republican congressman have called on the Bush administration to condemn President Islam Karimov, who has blamed the unrest on Islamic extremists. Condoleezza Rice called on Karimov, who has been in power since the collapse of the Soviet Union, to relax his grip on power. “We have been encouraging the Karimov government to make political reforms,” she said.

Uzbekistan is the most populous central Asian former Soviet republic and home to 26 million people.