Uzbekistan, officially the Republic of Uzbekistan, is the only doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and one of only two such countries worldwide. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south. Before 1991, it was part of the Soviet Union.
According to Russian news agency RIA-Novosti, Uzbekistan is cracking down on celebrating love on February 14, canceling concerts and other romance-themed events, the Associated Press reports.
As a substitute, authorities have arranged readings of poems by Mughal emperor Babur — whose birthday falls on Cupid’s holiday — for residents of the country’s capital city, Tashkent.
Uzbekistan has expelled Human Rights Watch and most International news organisations.
A rapid decline in its relationship with Pakistan over the past year has forced the US to rebuild relations with Uzbekistan and the other Central Asian countries in order to send supplies into Afghanistan.
Sterilisation is not, officially, the law in Uzbekistan.
But evidence gathered by the BBC suggests that the Uzbek authorities have run a programme over the last two years to sterilise women across the country, often without their knowledge.
Uzbekistan has sought to respond to Western concerns about its rights record as it attempts to end the isolation that followed its brutal suppression of an uprising in the city of Andijan in 2005. The Uzbek authorities said 187 people were killed and had blamed Islamists for stoking the violence. But witnesses and rights groups said government troops killed hundreds.
Some of the legal reforms put in place by Uzbekistan included the introduction of the right of judicial review of pretrial detention and the broadening of defendant's access to legal counsel.
Uzbekistan evicted the US military in 2005 after Washington and other Western governments called for an inquiry into the reported massacre of hundreds of civilians during a protest in the city of Andijan. But stalled relations have served neither Uzbekistan nor the West, US Ambassador Richard Norland told the Monitor recently (see story here). He insists, though, that the US is not turning a blind eye to human rights abuses.
Uzbekistan has been ruled for more than two decades by President Islam Karimov, who tolerates no dissent and harshly clamps down on all opposition to his regime.
U.S. advocacy group Freedom House gives Uzbekistan its lowest possible ranking for media freedoms. It says authorities have "purged the country of independent media" and continue to harass journalists whose version of events in Uzbekistan challenges the official account.
Authorities have routinely filtered foreign sites that carry detailed news on Uzbekistan for several years.
Uzbekistan, one of the Soviet Union's 15 republics, is rich in cotton, fruit -- and corruption. According to Pravda and other publications, the republic's leading government and Communist Party officials shared in the embezzlement of $6.5 billion during the 1970s and early 1980s. They also permitted Mafia-style crime families to thrive on such supposedly capitalist rackets as drugs, prostitution, gambling and murder for hire.
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. The country's political system is highly authoritarian, and its human rights record widely decried.
Uzbekistan's strategic location and its energy resources are important factors in drawing the attention of foreign powers, but so too are the skills of President Islam Karimov, says Alexei Malashenko, of the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "Karimov is a good player."
After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the US stepped forcefully into the region, developing a strong working relationship with Mr. Karimov, the Communist Party chief who became president upon the republic's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Uzbekistan, which is the region’s most populous country with around 29.5 million people living in it, is considered key to Central Asia. Any opening into its economy would attract considerable interest from foreign companies.
The Soviets also viewed the country as its transport and administrative hub in Central Asia. They built vast rail links from Uzbekistan to Russia and the rest of the region, a network that Nato hopes to make the most of when it evacuates its military hardware from Afghanistan in 2014.