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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Another 41 Are Jailed in Andijan Uprising

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- Courts in Uzbekistan have given long jail sentences to a further 41 people found guilty in two new closed trials of taking part in an uprising in May in the town of Andijan, the Supreme Court said on Thursday.

Uzbek courts started holding closed hearings after stinging criticism by human rights bodies of the first trial of 15 Uzbek men jailed last month over the May 13 rebellion, when witnesses say hundreds died when troops shot into crowds of protesters.

International human rights watchdogs said it was "a show trial" staged to cover up the truth about Andijan where some 500 protesters, including many women and children, were killed by government forces, according to witness accounts.

The latest series of trials brought to 114 the total number of those sentenced over the uprising in the eastern Uzbek town.

"The accused were found guilty of committing premeditated murder with aggravating circumstances, terrorism, attempting to overthrow the constitutional order of the Republic of Uzbekistan and other crimes," the Supreme Court said in a statement.

The sentences were handed down by courts in the capital, Tashkent, and the Tashkent region on Wednesday, it said.

The Uzbek authorities maintain that Andijan was attacked by foreign-paid terrorists seeking to establish an Islamic caliphate in the fertile but densely populated and impoverished Ferghana Valley, which is located in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Officials say 187 people -- mainly "terrorists" -- died in Andijan. Critics say the uprising was triggered by a trial of 23 local Muslim businessmen widely seen as unfair.

Uzbekistan's chilly relations with the West hit a new low after it rejected international calls to hold an independent inquiry into what happened. Last month, the U.S. military pulled out of a key Uzbek air base after Tashkent set a six-month deadline for them to do so following Washington's criticism of the Andijan bloodshed. Tashkent has also told European members of NATO that they will not be able to use its airspace or territory for operations linked to peacekeeping in neighboring Afghanistan.

n An Uzbek opposition group said Thursday that it had refused an offer by prosecutors to pay $200,000 to secure the release of an arrested activist, The Associated Press reported.

Nodira Khidoyatova, of the Sunshine Uzbekistan opposition group, was arrested Sunday and charged with economic crimes, participation in a criminal group and tax evasion of 158 million soums ($150,000).

"She was offered the choice of compensating for the economic damages she'd inflicted in return for an immediate release," said Svetlana Artykova, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General's Office.

But the group said in a statement on its web site that it had turned down the deal, calling it blackmail for trumped-up charges.