Monday, May 16, 2005
A slight shudder and a pulling-away
It's tough being a British Prime Minister. Still, somebody's got to do it. The best hope for whoever's in office is that the next American President will be a woman—preferably a dyke.
Now amidst the sweat, the smells, the blood, the body of Tony Blair's government has recoiled ever so slightly from the embrace of the Washington bear. The issue was Uzbekistan.
Tony had tolerated Bush's grunge boy—"Uzi," as Bush liked to call him—for years. Last year the Foreign Office had even had to suspend the British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray. Here's what the Guardian wrote of Murray in "The envoy who said too much"—
His mistake had been to write a letter to Tony Blair and George Bush alerting them to the daily torture meted out to dissidents in Uzbekistan, their new ally in the war on terror.
Tony was trying to pretend he didn't know about Bush's little fling, so notes like that—delivered directly rather than through appropriate channels—could be awkward. They were all just good friends—really!
But this time Uzi has gone over the line and, as The Telegraph described it, was "slaughtering women and children 'like rabbits.'" Blair himself likes a bit of the rough stuff, but when it comes to hunting, he can be a little prissy.
Today Alec Russell and Nick Allen were reporting—
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who faces criticism for British support of Uzbekistan's dictatorial regime, condemned its record.
He said the situation was "very serious" and there had been a "clear abuse" of human rights.
Mr Straw's remarks were in contrast to the near silence in Washington where the brutal crackdown in Uzbekistan has posed an acute dilemma.
President George W Bush has made the spread of freedom and democracy the dominant theme of his second term and has lauded the toppling of autocratic governments in other former Soviet republics, in particular Georgia and Ukraine.
But the support of President Karimov, a former communist apparatchik, is vital to America's hopes of making Afghanistan a success and preventing the spread of militant Islam in the region.
The clashes erupted in a region where a drive for more democracy and greater autonomy is intertwined with a push by extremists to found a pan-Islamic state across Central Asia.
Protesters stormed the prison and freed 23 businessmen charged with promoting Islamic extremism. This allegation is, human rights groups say, frequently trumped up against government critics.
But just as Blair was trying to clean up a bit, the phone rang. It was Vladimir on the line—for George.
.... Moscow rallied round its old satellite.
Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, blamed provocation "staged by groups similar to the Taliban".
He said Russia would maintain its support for Mr Karimov in his fight against Islamic extremists.
Now that wimp1 of an ambassador Craig Murray is trying to spoil everything that Bush and Blair ever had together. I mean, if he didn't like blood, why did he get into the business of diplomacy in the first place?
Craig Murray ... said Whitehall's and Washington's backing for the regime was partly to blame for the unrest.
"The Americans and British wouldn't do anything to help democracy in Uzbekistan," he told the Independent on Sunday. He had been unable to persuade Whitehall to fund pro-democracy activists.
Now Blair must stay indoors while he leaves it to his Foreign Secretary to do damage control—
Mr Straw said London had "long been concerned about abuse of human rights, about a lack of democracy".
Britain's policy was very clear, he said, adding that there was a need for "much higher standards in the treatment of Uzbek prisoners".
Oh, all right. Just one little excerpt—
... on an everyday basis, there is ... no way to protest. There is no freedom of the media, no freedom of religion, no freedom of speech, no freedom of assembly. A regime so harsh to the many, so luxurious for the few, rules only by the harshest of repression. There are not only exit visas, but still the propusk system of internal movement control. Almost all of those born on state farms are condemned to be, in effect, serf labour for life.
.... Not a word of dissent appears in the Uzbek media indeed not one word of my speeches ever did. Strangely the US Ambassador's comments were often carried at some length.
That may add to your appreciation of this little story from the Guardian—
One FCO [Foreign & Commonwealth Office] official suggested in his correspondence with Murray, that the ambassador should have just called the abuses "horrid", sat down, and then toed the line. Murray replied: "As you may know I have a slight speech impediment and cannot call anything 'howwid'."[back]