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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Conspiracy Claim as Uzbek Trial Opens

APFifteen men accused of participating in the Andijan uprising sitting in a defendants' cage in a Tashkent court Tuesday.
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- Prosecutors opened a trial Tuesday against the first group of suspects charged with taking part in an uprising in Andijan that ended in a bloodbath, claiming they were linked with an Islamic extremist conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Fifteen men, most in their 20s and 30s, sat impassively in a metal defendants' cage in the courtroom as a succession of blue-uniformed prosecutors read the state's arguments. All 15 stood, one by one, to confirm a guilty plea.

Prosecutors said participants in the May 13 revolt had planned to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state, or caliphate, first in the restive Fergana Valley region where Andijan is located and then throughout Uzbekistan. They said they had been trained in Kyrgyzstan and received funding from abroad -- including from supporters in the Russian cities of Omsk and Ivanovo.

The prosecutors pinned blame on the so-called Akramia group of businessmen, named after a jailed Islamic dissident whom the Uzbek government accuses of inspiring the religious extremism allegedly behind the uprising.

The defendants are accused of ties with the conspiracy, particularly with the Akramia businessmen, who the prosecutors alleged were linked with the outlawed extremist groups Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Movement of Turkestan.

The specific charges vary between defendants, ranging from murder to rioting to belonging to illegal groups.

Prosecutors also accused foreign reporters of exaggerating the level of support Akramia enjoyed and whitewashing its members as honest businessmen.

Deputy Prosecutor General Anvar Nabiyev told the court that the extremist groups "used so-called human rights organizations and foreign media to denounce Uzbekistan and blacken the activities of the Uzbek government," as well as to destabilize society and pave the way for a revolution similar to the March uprising in Kyrgyzstan that ousted President Askar Akayev. "Their main target was young people who were not adequately educated," Nabiyev told the courtroom, where a few weeping relatives of policemen and other officials who had been killed in the uprising watch the proceedings.

On the day of the uprising, the plotters "wanted to create the atmosphere of a peaceful demonstration ... and they forced people at gunpoint to come to the square" at the center of events, he said.

The government's suppression of the revolt badly damaged Uzbekistan's relations with the West as Uzbek President Islam Karimov rejected calls for an international probe after rights groups said more than 700 people were killed.

In addition to the 15 on trial, prosecutors said they were investigating another 106 people suspected of taking part in the unrest.