Uzbek leader lifts visas for S’pore tourists

Uzbekistan’s extraordinary architectural riches have made it a magnet for visitors for centuries. Source: Eurasia Times

Singapore tourists will no longer require a visa to enter Uzbekistan, after the isolated Central Asian nation announced it would axe visas for citizens of 15 countries, with a bizarre enticement to “senior” tourists from Malaysia and Vietnam.

Nationals from 12 other countries will be able to enter without a visa if they are aged 55 or over.

Tourist visas for Uzbekistan, one of two doubly landlocked countries on earth with the other being Liechtenstein, have been challenging for EU citizens to secure, requiring official paperwork, photographs and copies of passports and a detailed itinerary.

However, it is hoped that the policy change will attract more visitors. It comes into effect from April and was announced days after the country elected its second president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev,.

Tashkent said the restrictions were eased “in order to create favourable economic and institutional conditions for intensive development of tourism”.

Thirty-day visas will be issued on arrival to visitors from Singapore, Australia, Austria, the UK, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.

Visa-free travel for 30 days is available for the over-55s from Malaysia, Vietnam, Belgium, China (for travellers in groups), the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Poland, Portugal and the US. Tashkent did not explain the age policy.

Tourists will still have to pay a US$50 fee to enter Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan is one of the few remaining ex-communist states to require its citizens to obtain an exit visa.

The Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva are the main attractions, although they have been unsympathetically restored using modern building materials since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The capital, Tashkent, includes spectacularly ugly Soviet-era Hotel Uzbekistan and a fascinating metro network, filled with surreal art from the 1970s.

Uzbekistan has the ruins of a Buddhist temple, where famous Chinese monk Xuanzang, called Genjo in Japan, is said to have stayed on his pilgrimage to India in the seventh century.

Mirziyoyev, 59, served as Islam Karimov’s prime minister for 13 years before his landslide win with almost 89 per cent of the vote against three “opponents” in early December in an election dismissed as fraudulent by international observers.

Uzbekistan is commodity-rich with cotton and gas, has a population of around 32 million, the largest in central Asia, and borders Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, making it a key regional ally for many major powers.