Uzbek strongman leader Islam Karimov dies

Saturday, Sep 3, 2016,11:12 IST By metrovaartha A A A

Moscow | Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov died, the government announced, ending over a quarter of a century of his iron-fisted rule in the Central Asian nation, with no clear successor in place.

“Dear compatriots, it is with huge grief in our hearts that we announce to you the death of our dear president,” a state TV presenter said, reading an official statement.

Authorities said Karimov, 78, was pronounced dead at 8:55 pm local time (2025 IST) after he suffered a stroke over the weekend and fell into a coma, following days of speculation that authorities were delaying the announcement of his death.

The strongman’s funeral will be held in his home city of Samarkand, central Uzbekistan, tomorrow morning according to his wishes as the country begins three days of mourning, the statement said. Uzbekistan now faces the greatest moment of uncertainty in its post-Soviet history.

Karimov’s body was to be flown to Samarkand airport, which tomorrow will be closed to all flights except those with special permission.

From there, the funeral cortege is to set off at 6 am local time, with people able to pay their last respects from 9 am on a city square close to the cemetery where he will be buried, Russian news agencies reported, citing local officials.

Loyalist Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev is heading the organisation committee for the funeral, suggesting that he could be in line to take over long-term from Karimov.

Under Uzbek law, senate head Nigmatulla Yuldashev should now become acting president until early elections are held.

Karimov’s youngest daughter Lola wrote on Facebook “he has left us… I am struggling for words, I can’t believe it myself”.

Uzbek state television switched to footage of folk musicians playing traditional instruments against a black background after announcing his death.

Long condemned by rights groups as one of the region’s most brutal despots who ruthlessly stamped out opposition, Karimov was one of a handful of Soviet strongmen that clung to power after their homelands gained independence from Moscow in 1991.

Karimov portrayed himself as guarantor of stability and bulwark against radical Islam on the borders of Afghanistan, crushing fundamentalist groups at home.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Karimov’s death “a great loss for the people of Uzbekistan” in a telegram to interim leader Yuldashev, while Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is set to jet in for the funeral.

Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon confirmed he will attend while Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was reported to also be planning to go.

Ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Kazakhstan all said they were sending delegations headed by their prime ministers.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who appointed Karimov to head the former Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan in 1989, told Interfax news agency that Karimov was “a competent man with a strong character”.