Uzbekistan president dies at 78, country prepares for funeral
Uzbekistan appeared to be preparing for a state funeral after saying on Friday that the country’s president is critically ill. Karimov has run an authoritarian government in the Central Asian nation since 1989, and cultivated no apparent successor.
Long criticised by rights groups for brutally crushing dissent, Karimov has ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist since before it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Karimov hasn’t been seen in public since August 17, but his government admitted only last weekend that he was ill. “Dear compatriots, it is with a heavy heart that we inform you that the health of our President has sharply deteriorated in the past 24 hours to reach a critical state, according to the doctors,” the government’s statement read.
The uncertainty over Karimov’s health has raised concerns that Uzbekistan could face prolonged infighting among clans over leadership claims, something its Islamic radical movement could exploit.
Given the lack of access to the country, it’s hard to judge how powerful the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan might be, but the group has over the years been affiliated with the Taliban, al-Qaida and the Islamic State group and has sent fighters abroad.
Uzbekistan celebrated its Independence Day on Thursdya, and it was widely assumed that the government would not break any news until after the festivities. On Friday, indications mounted that the country was preparing for a funeral. Photographs posted by the respected Central Asian news website Fergana.ru showed what appeared to be undertakers in Karimov’s hometown of Samarkand working on a cemetery plot in the graveyard where Karimov’s family is buried.
The Samarkand airport issued a notice saying it would be closed to all flights except specially approved aircraft tomorrow, according to the website of the US Federal Aviation Administration. A top diplomat in neighboring Kyrgyzstan told The Associated Press that the Kyrgyz prime minister had been invited to Karimov’s funeral and would attend, leaving on Friday or Saturday. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the matter publicly.
‘We share sorrow with Uzbek people’
Turkey on Friday claimed that Uzbekistan's ailing President Islam Karimov, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation for over two decades, had died but there was no confirmation from Uzbek authorities. "Uzbek President Islam Karimov has died. May Allah rest him in peace," Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said during a televised cabinet meeting. "As the Turkish republic, we share the sorrow of the Uzbek people," he added. Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin had no confirmation that Karimov might be dead.