After the massacre at Andijan, the questions. What was the precise death toll, who were the victims, and how could such a thing happen? Pressure has been mounting on the regime to be more open about how it dealt with the unrest, which was sparked by the trial of 23 businessmen accused of being Islamic extremists.The ex-soviet state’s president says 169 people were killed, most of them rebels, who also killed civilians and soldiers. Other witnesses say at least 500 people, including women and children, were shot dead by security forces who opened fire on protestors. President Islam Karimov is described in the Western media as autocratic, a leader who has banned many opposition groups during his 15 year reign. He used a referendum in 1995 to extend his mandate until 2007. Promising to come down hard on Islamic extremists, Karimov has enjoyed the backing of the Russian government. He has also proved himself a faithful ally in the war against terrorism. Links between Washington and Tashkent were reinforced after September 11 and the American offensive against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Strategically placed in the heart of Central Asia, Uzbekistan has become a target for radicals, notably the transnational group Hizbut-Tahrir al Islami, which apparently aims to form a world power based on Sharia law. According to the militants, central Asia is the perfect place for an Islamic revolution, thanks to what it claims is the corruption of its infidel regimes and the presence of Americans on their soil. At the same time, however, they deny they support violence to achieve their goals. Caught up in all this are ordinary Uzbek citizens. As the world community mulls over how to avoid the possibility of a wider conflict, many people are deciding to seek out better lives, heading for the border with Kyrgystan.