Uzbekistan opposition leader does DC

RFE/RL Newsline reports July 1 that a leading Uzbek opposition figure, Muhammad Solih, is seeking to use a visit to Washington to urge the US and European Union to expand their support for “democracy activists” in Uzbekistan.

“We do not ask for a lot from the West,” Solih said. “We want the West to aid the legalization of political parties in Uzbekistan. We would like the West to aid the leaders of the opposition to function in Uzbekistan, to ensure the conduct of fair elections in Uzbekistan and the participation of the opposition in those elections and to ensure the existence of a free press. This in and of itself is enough to ensure the peaceful removal of this antidemocratic regime.”

Solih announced that some key Uzbek opposition leaders have united and formed a new group, the United Uzbek Democratic Coalition, to press their cause. Solih was named to head the coalition.

Solih, who will be in the United States for several weeks, has held meetings with influential members of Congress such as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) of the House International Relations Committee. He has also met representatives of key NGOs that receive US funding, such as the National Democracy Institute, the International Republican Institute, and IFES, a Washington-based election-assistance organization. He was also due to meet with officials of the Bush administration’s National Security Council.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, Eurasia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus Matthew Bryza said Solih’s visit to Washington was coincidental and did not reflect new ties with the Uzbek opposition. “We work across the board with all Uzbek people — with the government, with the political opposition, with people in the middle.”

Solih’s friend Ros-Lehtinen is of course Capitol Hill’s foremost advocate of “regime change” in Cuba.

See our last post on Uzbekistan.