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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Presses Tashkent on Reform

APA policeman searching a car in Navoi, which is about 500 kilometers from Tashkent.
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- A U.S. congressional delegation said Monday that it urged the Uzbek government to push democratic reforms after a week of violence that killed at least 47 people.

Meanwhile, the Prosecutor General's Office said operations continued to hunt an unknown number of suspects in the attacks.

"They still haven't arrested all of them," said Svetlana Artikova, spokeswoman for the prosecutor general. "How many? If we knew that, then we'd be the happiest people in the world."

The United States and Uzbekistan have been close allies since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Uzbekistan offered the United States the use of an air base near the Afghan border, a key asset in the ouster of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in late 2001.

"I happen to believe that from this tragedy, moving toward the goal of bringing about greater political freedoms and economic freedoms is the natural and correct step," U.S. Representative David Dreier of California told reporters after meeting with Uzbek Foreign Minister Sadyk Safayev.

Dreier said the delegation was "very encouraged from the reports that we have been seeing in the area of human rights," but he did not provide any examples.

The two countries signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2002. But for the Uzbek government to continue receiving direct U.S. aid, the U.S. government must certify the country is making progress on human rights.

A U.S. State Department report on human rights in Uzbekistan released in February said the government was committing "numerous serious abuses." At least four people died in custody last year because of mistreatment by authorities, the report said, and up to 5,800 people were imprisoned for political or religious reasons.

On Sunday, Safayev told foreign journalists that cutting off aid to the country would be a mistake and insisted progress was being made on human rights and economic reforms.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is to decide this week whether Uzbekistan has achieved a range of reforms set last year amid heavy criticism from human rights groups. The bank will decide whether to keep working with the Uzbek government on the basis of that evaluation.