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Kyrgyz president fumes over award to jailed journalist

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — The president of Kyrgyzstan on Monday lambasted the United States for honoring a jailed Kyrgyz journalist.

The U.S. State Department earlier this month conferred a share of its annual Human Rights Defender award on Azimzhan Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek journalist and activist who is serving a life sentence in prison for stirring up “ethnic hatred.”

Kyrgyzstan, angry at the award, last week dissolved a 1993 cooperation agreement with the United States, saying that Askarov is a dangerous criminal.

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev told reporters on Monday that he views the award to Askarov as a “deliberate provocation aiming to flare up ethnic tensions” in the south of the country.

“This award that the State Department gave to Azimzhan Askarov is like a cinder being thrown into dry grass: it can either go out, or a fire can get started,” Atambayev said, adding that he is expecting “legal experts” from the United States and the European Union to arrive in Kyrgyzstan and review the case file in order to make sure that the case against Askarov is rock solid.

More than 450 people, mostly but not exclusively ethnic Uzbeks, were killed and tens or even hundreds of thousands were displaced by the unrest. Dozens of people are still missing.

The majority of those convicted for taking part in the deadly clashes have been ethnic Uzbeks.

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