Uzbekistan's president to visit Russia on Feb. 5-6

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TASHKENT, February 5 (RIA Novosti) - Uzbekistan's president, Islam Karimov, will visit Russia on February 5-6 for talks with President Vladimir Putin and other senior officials.

This will be Karimov's first foreign visit since he was reelected for another seven-year term in 2007 in polls called "undemocratic" by Western observers. Karimov has ruled the energy-rich Central Asian state since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. He was also leader of the Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan during Soviet times.

"The current state and the future of bilateral relations, acute regional and international issues, and the two countries' cooperation within international organizations will be discussed in Moscow," Karimov's press office said.

Karimov severed relations with the West over criticism of his suppression of a revolt against his rule in the southern Uzbek town of Andijan in 2005, during which hundreds of people were shot dead by the country's security forces. Russia backed Tashkent's handling of the situation, saying the unrest had been staged by Islamic radicals.

The Uzbek leader has recently signaled his desire to restore ties with the West. Moscow is anxious to maintain access to the country's natural gas deposits and curb possible Western influence over ex-Soviet Central Asia.

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