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Clinton highlights Afghan security, human rights
Clinton touts Afghan security, human rights in Central Asia
By The Associated Press

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) ' U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is urging Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors to play a role in securing and rebuilding the war-torn nation. She's also pressing authorities in the region on human rights.

Clinton told an audience in Tajikistan on Saturday that Afghanistan's reintegration into the regional economy would be critical to its recovery as well as improving conditions in surrounding countries.

"Afghanistan has historically been a place where many different countries have vied for power and influence because of its strategic location," she said. "The Afghan people have paid a price, but so have the countries of the region. It is critical to integrate the economies of the region of South and Central Asia."

Clinton was promoting the concept of a "new Silk Road" that would increase regional trade and commerce.

On the sensitive subject of human rights, Clinton told a town hall meeting in Dushanbe that she would raise the issue with the leaders of both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, where she will travel later Saturday.

Clinton was asked why she would meet with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who has been accused of numerous abuses.

She replied that it was important to try to raise "issues of human rights and rule of law, the kind of fundamental freedoms that the U.S. strongly supports."

"If you have no contact, you have no influence and other countries will fill that vacuum that do not care about human rights and fundamental freedoms," she said. "So I would rather be raising these issues than be outside."

Clinton arrived in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe on Friday and will move on later Saturday to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. Clinton is pushing Afghanistan's neighbors to support the country as the U.S. withdraws forces over the next three years.

In both countries Clinton will also press leaders on human rights issues. Human Rights Watch has called on her to link improvements to continued U.S. engagement.

Her stop to Uzbekistan will be the most senior visit by a U.S. official since the U.S. last month lifted 7-year-old restrictions on assistance to the country. The restrictions were imposed because of rights abuses.

Clinton is at the tail end of a weeklong, seven-nation overseas trip that has already taken her to Malta, Libya, Oman, Afghanistan and Pakistan. She returns to Washington on Sunday.

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