Hillary pushes rights in ex-Soviet Central Asia

Hillary pushes rights in ex-Soviet Central Asia Tashkent: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on Saturday expected to press Uzbek President Islam Karimov on human rights and regional cooperation as she arrived in the strategically-located ex-Soviet state.

She arrived from neighbouring Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe where she sought to defend her plans to meet the controversial Uzbek leader, saying US contacts with the authoritarian regime can help improve the ex-Soviet country's rights record.

At the helm of the landlocked nation of 28.5 million since 1989, Karimov wields unchecked power and tolerates no dissent.

His bloody crackdown on a rare burst of unrest in the city of Andijan in 2005 left 187 people dead, according to official figures, or many hundreds, according to rights groups.

US ties with Uzbekistan have for years been a delicate balancing act as Washington seeks to encourage its government to improve its rights record while trying to secure Tashkent's support in its war on terror, given its strategic border with war-ravaged Afghanistan and its existing railway infrastructure.

"If you have no contact you will have no influence, and other countries will fill that vacuum who do not care about human rights," Hillary said in Tajikistan, referring to her plans to meet the Uzbek leader.

"It's a balancing act, but we try on an ongoing basis to get our message across and give heart to people inside countries that there are those outside who care about what is happening to them and are advocating for change on their behalf."

"I cannot promise you that there will be some immediate change... you know that change in many of these situations takes time and effort," she said at a town-hall style meeting with Tajik youth and civil society in Dushanbe.

She was speaking in response to a woman who asked why she was meeting an authoritarian leader like Karimov.

Ahead of Hillary’s meeting with the Uzbek leader Human Rights Watch called on the top US diplomat to press Uzbekistan to release political prisoners, end torture in jails and promote civil society.