The parliament of Uzbekistan began discussing a declaration of independence Wednesday, becoming the first of five Soviet Central Asian republics to consider breaking with Moscow, the official Tass news agency reported.
The Supreme Soviet of Uzbekistan debated a measure that would establish the republic as a separate country responsible for its own domestic and foreign policy, Tass said.The arid, poverty-stricken Central Asian republics have suffered from repeated outbreaks of ethnic unrest, but until now have not followed the parliamentary struggle for secession waged by the three Baltic republics.
Moscow imposed economic sanctions and an oil and gas embargo on Lithuania after it declared independence on March 11. Latvia and Estonia followed suit by declaring a transition period to independence.
President Mikhail Gorbachev has denounced Lithuania's independence declaration and has demanded that it be suspended.
Uzbekistan, a cotton-growing republic of 20 million people, has the best-organized popular movement in the region, Berlik, and is seen as a center for activism in largely Moslem Central Asia.
Tass said many deputies had argued that the declaration should wait until a new federal treaty is worked out among the 15 Soviet republics, but were overruled.