United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon has warned of a worsening rights situation across Central Asia. It was his first trip to the energy-rich region in five years.
Speaking on Saturday in Turkmenistan, Ban said he had "heard concerns about the deterioration of some aspects of human rights - a shrinking of democratic space."
The UN general secretary told students at an international university in the country's capital, Ashgabat, that crackdowns on rights in the area could be triggered by "perceived security threats - in particular, rising concerns about terrorism and violent extremism."
He warned, however, that governments may use such threats "as a pretext to clamp down on civil society, minorities and human rights defenders."
Failure to respect human rights, promote participation in politics and create equal opportunities "creates gaps," Ban said.
"The wider the gaps, the greater the openings for violent extremists."
"I see this phenomenon on the rise in the region and it troubles me greatly," Ban said, adding that "democracy in Central Asia can work."
The vast region of Central Asia, once ruled by Moscow, has long faced criticism from the West and rights groups over its record on basic freedoms, ethnic minorities, judicial independence and its lack of accountable institutions.
A day earlier, Ban visited Uzbekistan, where he urged President Islam Karimov to end the practice of forced labor on its cotton plantations and the mistreatment of prisoners in his country.
The modern definition of Central Asia is generally taken to include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
ksb/rc (Reuters, AFP)