Uzbekistan prepares for Independence Day

Security measures are stepped up nationwide

By Shakar Saadi


TASHKENT -- Authorities have stepped up security in Uzbekistan ahead of the August 31-September 1 Independence Day celebrations. All state agencies have been placed on high alert to prevent any acts of terror meant to exploit or disrupt celebrations.

A number of measures, including advance sweeps of areas involved in the celebration, inspections of residences and private property, strengthening of traffic police posts and intelligence gathering, have been undertaken, said Ilkhom Ibragimov of the Chief Administration for Criminal Investigation and the Struggle against Terrorism (GUURBT).

"Special anti-terror measures are being conducted in the closest co-operation with the National Security Service (SNB), interior ministry troops and the defence ministry," he said.

Terrorists have several motives for striking during Independence Day, SNB analyst Alisher Zhulumov said. First, celebrations draw large groups; second, disturbances during the country's leading holiday would show the extremists are targeting the government.

"But the main reason," he said, "is that the financiers of terrorist organisations ... pay generously for bloody acts perpetrated during state-level events such as the Independence Day celebration."

The Foreign Ministry is thoroughly verifying the identities of foreigners who applied to visit the country during these days.

And the GUURBT, for the past several months, has been diligently trying to uncover potential members of extremist organisations.

Khusan Akbarov, who served a prison sentence for membership in a terrorist organisation, recalled that in June a police officer talked with him and took a declaration that Akbarov had no connection to terrorists and was obligated to report any suspicious occurrences to security agencies.

Akmal Pulatov, owner of a store in Tashkent, told Central Asia Online that he and the owners of nearby businesses received special training on what to do during emergencies and if they noticed suspicious individuals or unidentified packages.

A policeman directed business owners that they were obligated to report any suspicious objects and people to law enforcement, he said.

In the past month, Tashkent restaurant manager Timur Tuliaganov said, the fire and sanitation departments both closely examined his restaurant. "The personnel received professional instruction on fighting fires ... It was conscientiously given, not just for show." Such measures are highly useful and could save many lives, he said.

In the interests of unmasking and thwarting extremist-minded citizens, Andijan policeman Otabek Khodzhababayev said he visits the mosque on his beat daily.

"Either at the end of the day or at the beginning of the next day, the mosque attendant tells a policeman and SNB agent the theme of the sermon and the approximate number of worshippers and notes whether any of them aroused suspicion."

A threat still exists, even though terrorist activity has lessened recently in Uzbekistan, Zhulumov said. "Uzbekistan is not behind an iron curtain," he said. "As long as terrorist groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan receive financial support, a terrorist threat to the country will exist."

Meanwhile, security measures along the borders with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have intensified to block terrorists from entering Uzbekistan, said border guard Eshmat Khodzhayev.

Entry into Tashkent too has become more difficult as Independence Day nears. Traffic police and patrolmen thoroughly inspect every arriving or departing car, leading to traffic jams. However, most motorists reacted with understanding.

"This was done for the sake of protecting all of us and society in general," said Samarkand motorist Rustam Sagdiyev.

"I don't mind losing time for the sake of protecting my children and family," said Tashkent resident Gulnoza Talipova.

Generally, the main celebration of Independence Day, which includes the participation of President Islam Karimov, takes place the evening of August 31.

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