Confusion surrounds fate of Uzbekistan's stricken leader

The Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan said Friday that its longtime ruler, Islam Karimov, was in critical condition as Turkey's prime minister declared he had already died.

Karimov's condition "has severely worsened over the past day and, in the opinion of doctors, is considered critical," the government said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced on television that Karimov had died, and expressed his sincere condolences to the people of Uzbekistan.

The countries enjoy robust ties, with Uzbekistan having strong Turkic roots.

Karimov, a former Soviet functionary, has ruled Uzbekistan for a quarter of a century. He has permitted almost no opposition, and it remains unclear who his successor could be.

The 78-year-old was hospitalized with a severe illness last weekend. His condition sent shock waves throughout the region.

The Fergana news agency, which specializes in Central Asian news, reported this week that Karimov had succumbed to a stroke, which the government quickly denied.

Then on Friday, Western media cited undisclosed diplomatic sources as saying Karimov had indeed died. The Uzbek government told Russian news wires that it would not comment on the information.

Karimov has tolerated little dissent to his rule, including suppressing the terrorist-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

This week, the government denied reports that a possible successor, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Rustam Azimov, had been placed under house arrest amid rumours of infighting among Karimov's inner circle.

Uzbekistan has remained largely within Russia's sphere of influence since Soviet times but has also provided crucial footing for the US war in Afghanistan, allowing US forces to use a major Uzbek airbase.

Last update: Fri, 02/09/2016 - 16:21
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