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Originally published Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 3:14 AM

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Uzbekistan urged to release political prisoners

A group of international rights groups has urged Uzbekistan to mark the 20th anniversary of the country's constitution with the unconditional release of political prisoners.

The Associated Press

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ALMATY, Kazakhstan —

A group of international rights groups has urged Uzbekistan to mark the 20th anniversary of the country's constitution with the unconditional release of political prisoners.

The nine groups, which include New York-based Human Rights Watch, said Thursday that the gesture would demonstrate the authoritarian Central Asian nation's commitment to reform.

The statement named dozens of potential candidates for release, noting that many of them are suffering ill-health and have been subject to mistreatment.

Despite its rights record, the ex-Soviet republic's role in assisting U.S.-led military operation in neighboring Afghanistan has spared it from the diplomatic isolation and severe sanctions reserved for other authoritarian states.

Uzbekistan often celebrates Constitution Day, to be marked Saturday, with prisoner amnesties, but beneficiaries typically do not include people jailed on political grounds.

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