Turkey top diplomat to visit Uzbekistan for first time in 13 years

ANKARA (AFP) - Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Tuesday he would visit the Central Asian state of Uzbekistan this week, the first such trip by the top Turkish diplomat in 13 years amid efforts to improve troubled relations.

"Uzbekistan is a friendly and brotherly country at the heart of Central Asia," Mr Davutoglu, who will begin his visit on Thursday, told reporters in Ankara.

Turkey was the first country to recognise in 1991 the independence of Uzbekistan, a fellow overwhelmingly Turkic-speaking nation and the most populous state in ex-Soviet Central Asia.

But relations with Uzbekistan took a nosedive in 2005, when Uzbek troops killed hundreds of demonstrators in the town of Andijan, provoking an international outcry.

Turkey had backed a UN resolution condemning Uzbekistan over human rights violations in Andijan, provoking the ire of strongman Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

Uzbekistan has since snubbed a number of regional summits hosted by Ankara in recent years.

Mr Davutoglu said the two sides had demonstrated political will to overcome the "stagnation" in bilateral ties in recent years, hoping that the trip would invigorate dialogue channels and give a boost to relations.

The minister is also due to visit the ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara as well as the capital Tashkent.

Ankara has sought to expend its influence across Central Asia in recent years and the region has proved to be a key market for Turkish companies.