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UN award for Karimov 'shocking'

Natalia Antelava / BBC | September 14 2006

RELATED: UN Honors Dictator Who Boils People Alive With "Cultural Diversity" Award

Human rights groups have strongly criticised the UN's cultural body, Unesco, for giving a prize to Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

Unesco's Director-General, Koichiro Matsuura, presented a cultural heritage award to Mr Karimov when he visited Tashkent last week.

Mr Karimov has been condemned by the UN for a bloody crackdown in May 2005.

Rights groups called the Unesco award "scandalous, shocking, absurd and inappropriate".

Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders have all expressed their concern at the award, which Unesco said was in recognition of Mr Karimov's preserving his country's cultural heritage.

Just over a year ago, the UN condemned Mr Karimov for staging what it called a "massacre" in the city of Andijan, where government troops opened fire on demonstrators, killing hundreds of protestors.

More recently, the UN high commissioner for refugees accused the Uzbek government of kidnapping refugees from Andijan who were hiding in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, and persecuting people connected to the events of last year.

A Unesco spokesperson told the BBC that the medal was a "gesture of courtesy".

According to the Uzbek press, Mr Matsuura also thanked the president for his role in strengthening friendship and cooperation between nations and developing cultural and religious dialogue.

But human rights groups say it is inappropriate to give an international award to the leader of a country where the torture of prisoners is systematic, religious repression is widespread and political opposition is not tolerated.

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