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Key Uzbek Opposition Leader Held

November 30, 2001|From Associated Press

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Acting on an international warrant, police have detained an Uzbek opposition leader who came to Prague at the invitation of Radio Free Europe, his lawyer said Thursday.

Uzbekistan accuses Mukhammat Salikh of being an Islamic militant, but a human rights group said the charge is politically motivated and urged the Czech Republic not to extradite him.

Salikh was picked up shortly after arriving in the Czech capital Wednesday, according to his lawyer, Miroslava Kohoutova, who said a court would rule on his extradition to Uzbekistan by week's end.

Police spokeswoman Eva Brozova confirmed that Salikh was being held in a cell and said he is wanted in connection with several serious criminal offenses in Uzbekistan.

Salikh, head of the opposition party Erk, or Freedom, was sentenced in absentia last year to 15 1/2 years in prison for alleged involvement in a bombing that killed 16 people in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, in 1999.

He now lives in Norway, where he was granted political asylum after authorities ruled that he was in danger of persecution in his homeland.

Radio Free Europe spokeswoman Sonia Winter confirmed that the station had invited Salikh but said that no firm date had been set for his visit. "His arrival was a surprise for us," Winter said.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has received Western praise for opening his airspace and a key air base to U.S. aircraft to help Washington pursue its campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.

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