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Court Hears of Drugs in Andijan Uprising

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- A witness at the trial of 15 men charged with involvement in a May uprising in Uzbekistan said Friday that he saw militants carrying several syringes in government building seized by rebels.

The testimony by a building guard identified only by his last name, Boyboyev, echoed Uzbek state media claims that the suspected militants had been using drugs.

"I couldn't talk to them because they were armed," Boyboyev told the court, adding that he had overheard the militants identifying themselves as members of the devout Islamic Akramia business group.

Prosecutors contend that Akramia was part of the outlawed Islamic group Hizb-ut Tahrir.

Rights groups say government troops killed at least 750 people in the crackdown on a protest in the eastern city of Andijan that was triggered by rights abuses and poverty. The government blames the unrest on alleged Islamic militants and puts the death toll at 187.

Rights groups say defendants' testimony in the carefully orchestrated trial was coerced through torture.

In St. Petersburg, Uzbek President Islam Karimov thanked President Vladimir Putin on Friday for supporting his country following the Andijan uprising and called for the countries' relations to be strengthened.

Karimov turned to Moscow for support after the United States and other Western nations publicly criticized Uzbekistan for the government suppression of the uprising and joined demands for an international investigation.

Russia, as well as China, responded with a strong show of support.

"The events in Andijan have show again who is who," Karimov said Friday in televised comments. "The time has come not only for a strategic partnership but for the relations of allies."

Putin welcomed Karimov's proposal, saying the countries had common problems, including drug trafficking, and "we can solve them only by joining our efforts."

The conversation reflected a new warming in relations after years of Uzbek resistance to perceived domination by Moscow, its Soviet-era master. Uzbekistan had quietly courted the United States after the Soviet collapse and it offered an air base to U.S. troops fighting in neighboring Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Karimov's government has now ordered the United States to pull its troops out of a base in the southern part of the country, following a call from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that the United States should set a date for withdrawal from the strategic, energy-rich region.

The SCO is a regional security alliance dominated by Russia and China.

(The Moscow Times 10.x.05)

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