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In 1991 Uzbekistan emerged as a sovereign country after more than a century of Russian rule - first as part of the Russian empire and then as a component of the Soviet Union.
Positioned on the ancient Great Silk Road between Europe and Asia, majestic cities such as Bukhara and Samarkand, famed for their architectural opulence, once flourished as trade and cultural centres.
Uzbekistan is the most populous Central Asian country and has the largest armed forces. There is no real internal opposition and the media is tightly controlled by the state. A UN report has described the use of torture in Uzbekistan as 'systematic'.
The rigidity of political control is mirrored in the tightly centralised planning of the economy. Economic reform has been painfully slow to materialise.
A World Bank report in the summer of 2003 found economic growth and living standards to be amongst the lowest in the former Soviet Union. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development [EBRD) announced in April 2004 that it was slashing aid to Uzbekistan because of the country's failure to reform and its poor human rights record.
The emergence of radical Islamist groups in Central Asia led to increased security fears in Uzbekistan. A series of bomb blasts in the capital in 1999 left over a dozen people dead. The leadership blamed Islamic extremists, accusing them of seeking to kill President Karimov and destabilise the country.
Following the 11 September attacks on the US, the Uzbek authorities won favour with Washington by allowing its forces a base in Uzbekistan affording ready access across the Afghan border. US aid increased. Human rights observers have voiced mounting fears that it has become harder to focus international attention on the many reported cases of abuse and torture.
The country faced a further wave of violence with reports of suicide bombings in early 2004. Dozens were killed. A further crackdown followed. Again the authorities were quick to blame Islamic insurgents and "foreign extremists", this time also accusing them of seeking to damage ties with the USA.
President Islam Karimov's uncompromising policies have created friction between Uzbekistan and the other Central Asian countries. Uzbekistan opposes any moves towards closer political integration on post-Soviet territory and has pulled out of the Commonwealth of Independent States' collective security treaty.
Population: 25 million
Area: 447,400 sq km (172,700 sq miles)
Major language: Uzbek, Russian, Tajik
Major religion: Islam
Life expectancy: 66 years (men), 72 years (women)
Monetary unit: 1 Uzbek som = 100 tiyins
Main exports: Cotton, gold, natural gas, mineral fertilizers, ferrous metals, textiles, motor vehicles
GNI per capita: US $310 (World Bank, 2002)
Internet domain: .uz
International dialling code: +998
The state maintains tight control of the media. Despite a constitutional ban on censorship and guarantees of press freedom, the media rights body Reporters Without Borders noted in 2003 that no mention is allowed of topics such as the political opposition, corruption or civil liberties.
"The state imprisons or harasses journalists who break these rules," it added.
Pre-publication censorship of the press by the state was abolished in 2002, but self-censorship is widespread.
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists reported that some newspapers had employed former state censors to minimise the risk of publishing "offensive" material. The government controls much of the printing and distribution infrastructure.
As well as the state-run broadcasters, there are some 35 private TV stations and a number of private radio stations, including 15 in Tashkent. Some foreign stations are available via cable TV, but access to this is beyond the financial reach of many viewers.
The number of internet users was estimated to be 275,000 in 2002, according to official figures.