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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Russia halts Uzbeks' extradition

Russia has suspended the extradition to Uzbekistan of 13 people facing terrorism charges there.

The 13 had earlier appealed to the European Court of Human Rights against their extradition.

The Russian prosecutor general's office said it was acting in line with the Court's rules, which prohibit deportation while appeals are pending.

The suspects are accused of terrorism over the 13 May 2005 Andijan crackdown, when Uzbek troops fired on protesters.

Uzbekistan says 187 people died in Andijan when the troops opened fire, but witnesses put the figure much higher.

The Uzbek government says soldiers were eliminating a dangerous group of Islamic extremists, but witnesses say troops opened fire on a crowd of anti-government demonstrators in the town square.

The Russian authorities say they have received a guarantee from Uzbekistan that the 13 men, all ethnic Uzbeks, will not be tortured or sentenced to death.

But rights groups said they feared for the men's safety.

The men have been held in the city of Ivanovo, some 300km (180 miles) east of Moscow, since their arrest in June 2005.

Since May 2005, the Uzbek authorities have jailed dozens of people on charges of Islamic extremism, observers say.

They have also put pressure on neighbouring Kyrgyzstan to return people sheltering there who are accused of extremism.

Western nations have repeatedly called for a probe into the killings in Andijan, but the Russian authorities have supported Uzbekistan in what it calls a fight against terrorism.
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