President Islam Karimov said last week the four days of attacks that began in late March - including Central Asia's first ever human bombings - were linked to "terror groups" abroad, and to alleged armed fighters based in Pakistani frontier areas where al-Qaida fighters are believed to be hiding.

"They say that it was another case of international terror with links to Pakistan, but I think that the main cause of the attacks is here," British Ambassador Craig Murray said on Sunday at an event ahead of Monday's Word Press Freedom Day in the capital Tashkent. 

"Uzbek people live in desperation, they have no hope for improvements," he said. "The worst Soviet features such as secret police, censorship, torture in prisons are still in place here." 

Uzbekistan has long been criticised for its poor human rights record, including putting more than 6000 political dissidents in squalid jails where a UN report found torture is "systematic." 

Fighting for democracy

Murray - who has earned himself a reputation for being the most outspoken diplomat in Tashkent on human rights - also slammed the Uzbek media, saying it was not telling the truth to the people but serving as official propaganda.

Uzbekistan has been criticised
for its poor human rights record

Censorship was officially abolished in Uzbekistan in 2002, but all editors have been warned about deviating from the official line.

"It is time to fight for democracy," Murray urged local journalists.

No opposition parties are formally recognised in Uzbekistan, and they will not be able to participate in December elections.

Still, the government rejects allegations it suppresses opposition, saying parties that do not violate laws are free to operate. 

"Preventing opposition parties from participation in free elections is a serious decision," said Murray. "It means Uzbek government does not believe in democracy. There are no signs Uzbekistan will be democratic anytime soon."