In June 1990, Uzbekistan was the first central Asian republic to declare that its own laws had sovereignty over those of the central Soviet government. Uzbekistan became fully independent and joined with ten other former Soviet republics on Dec. 21, 1991, in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Vozrozhdeniye, an island in the Aral Sea, was a secret test site for biological weapons during the Soviet era. In 1988, the Soviets attempted to bury the evidence on the island, a frightening legacy that Uzbekistan inherited upon independence. U.S. scientists have confirmed that the island contains live anthrax and other deadly poisons.
President Karimov, a former Communist Party boss, is an autocrat who has brutally suppressed political parties and religious freedom and maintained rule with an iron fist. In 1999, after a bus hijacking, he declared, "I am prepared to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, in order to save peace and calm in the republic." The country's thousands of political and religious prisoners are subject to appalling conditions and horrific torture, including being boiled alive.
In 1999, the country battled against militant Islamic groups bent on the overthrow of the secular government. Fighting against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) continued for the next several years.