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Kerry In Uzbekistan On Central Asian Trip


Uzbek President Islam Karimov with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Samarkand.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with officials from the five ex-Soviet Central Asian nations on November 1 in the historic city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Kerry is on his first trip around Central Asia in more than two years as the top U.S. diplomat.

The United States wants authoritarian governments in the region to increase democracy and respect for human rights, believing such steps would lessen the pull of extremism in a region where the Islamic State militant group has found many recruits.

Kerry was met at the airport in Samarkand by autocratic Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who has been in power since before the Central Asian nations of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan gained independence in the 1991 Soviet breakup.

The U.S. State Department's own 2014 human rights report sharply criticized Uzbekistan's electoral system and said torture and corruption are rampant.

Kerry, who visited Kyrgyzstan on October 31, has said he will not be afraid to criticize his hosts. But he has also made it clear that Washington is ready to maintain and improve ties in the region despite its concerns.

Russia and China are also vying for influence in Central Asia.

Already faced with an economic slowdown, Central Asian governments fear the drastic reduction of U.S. forces from Afghanistan signals an end Washington's interest in the region.

Until last year, Kyrgyzstan was home to a U.S. air base at Manas airport that was a crucial transport and supply hub for NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan.

The base has since closed and the U.S. Afghan operation, while prolonged into at least 2017, has been dramatically scaled back.

Economic troubles worsened by last year's oil-price collapse and oil exports and sanctions against Russia could feed social unrest in Central Asia, contributing to the threat from Islamist extremism.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

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