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Uzbekistan Announces Death Of President Karimov

FILE: Late President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov
FILE: Late President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov

Uzbek state TV has announced the death of President Islam Karimov, following days of unconfirmed reports suggesting the only post-independence leader of Central Asia's most populous country had already died.

The Uzbek presenter read a statement from the Uzbek cabinet and parliament and said the 78-year-old Karimov had died at 8:55 p.m. local time the same day of a stroke.

He said a funeral would be held on September 3 in the late president's birthplace, the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand.

The former communist boss ruled for 27 years at the center of a tight inner circle and ruthlessly applied the country's security and intelligence forces to keep a firm lid on dissent. His regime was accused of routinely torturing detainees and jailing political opponents.

Karimov has no apparent successor, and speculation has raged for days that a secretive effort was under way to replace a figure who dominated Uzbek political life for a generation.

It is unclear who is currently in charge of the Central Asian nation of around 29 million.

Even before the official announcement, with Uzbek officials earlier on September 2 saying only that Karimov's condition had worsened, foreign leaders were expressing condolences to Uzbekistan over Karimov's purported death.

Preparations also appeared to be under way for a major state event in Samarkand, and anonymous foreign officials were quoted as saying leaders from neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan would be attending a funeral for Karimov on September 3.

Security sources told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev, who has been touted by outsiders as a possible successor, had made a trip to Samarkand. In Karimov's absence, Mirziyaev led a commemorative event in Tashkent on August 31 that marked the start of Independence Day celebrations.

Karimov's funeral was certain to draw leaders from throughout the former Soviet Union and the region in general.

An unnamed Afghan official has already said President Ashraf Ghani would be attending Karimov's funeral, and Reuters reported that Nursultan Nazarbaev, the president of neighboring Kazakhstan, was cutting short a trip to China to fly to Uzbekistan.

INFOGRAPHIC: How Does Karimov's Rule Compare?

Rumors had swirled since the August 27 announcement of Karimov's hospitalization for what one of the president's daughters described the next day as a "brain hemorrhage."

Uzbekistan's cabinet broke days of silence when it announced on September 2 that Karimov was in critical condition.

But early on September 2, Reuters quoted three diplomatic sources as saying Karimov was dead.

Hours later, Turkey's prime minister, Binali Yildirim, was shown at a televised cabinet meeting saying that "Uzbek President Islam Karimov has passed away," adding, according to Reuters, "May God's mercy be upon him, as the Turkish Republic we are sharing the pain and sorrow of Uzbek people."

The presidents of Iran and Georgia also publicly expressed sadness over Karimov's passing before the official announcement.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported that district mayors and other officials had been instructed to wear white shirts and black suits to work on September 2.

The instructions were issued late on September 1 amid what appeared to be rushed preparations in Samarkand, where central streets were blocked off as cleaning and apparent construction work took place. A large red carpet was laid in the city's historic Registan Square and loudspeakers were being installed.

There was also activity around the Chorraha Mosque in Samarkand, and public workers and university students were being bused to Samarkand's airport.

The Samarkand airport issued a notice saying it would be closed to all flights on September 3 "except operations officially confirmed for this date" and all previous permissions for this date were canceled, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

Karimov had not been seen in public since mid-August.

Muted Independence Day Celebrations

Uzbekistan celebrated Independence Day on September 1, with Karimov unprecedentedly absent but officials giving no indication of his condition.

Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, Karimov's younger daughter, suggested via social media on August 31 that her father was alive and could potentially recover.

But two days of public ceremonies were scaled back and scheduled appearances by Karimov, who issued the Uzbek declaration of sovereignty 25 years ago and has ruled ever since, have been canceled.

A holiday speech traditionally delivered by Karimov was read out by a state television anchor during an evening news bulletin on August 31.

Along with Mirziyaev, who has been prime minister since 2003, observers have suggested that other possible successors might include Finance Minister Rustam Azimov and National Security Committee head Rustam Inoyatov.

'Repressive Regime'

International rights watchdogs and Western officials accuse Karimov of brutal repression, and the country has never held an election deemed democratic by Western monitors.

Amnesty International says Uzbekistan’s “repressive regime” is unlikely to change after Karimov’s death.

Denis Krivosheev, the London-based group’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said on September 2 that his successor “is likely to come from Karimov’s closest circle, where dissenting minds have never been tolerated.”

“During [Karimov’s] 27-year long rule, rights and freedoms were profoundly disregarded, with any dissent brutally crushed, and torture and arbitrary detentions became integral to the country’s justice system,” Krivosheev said in a statement.

"Any semblance of justice in the country will require deep political changes and a new, principled approach from Uzbekistan’s international partners, something which has been totally lacking in recent years."

The Uzbek Constitution states that if the president is unable to perform his duties the head of the upper chamber of parliament assumes presidential authority for a period of three months. That is Senate Chairman Nigmatulla Yuldashev, who has led the upper house since January 2015.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, Reuters, AP, AFP, TASS,, RIA Novosti, and Interfax