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Uzbeks Bury Strongman Karimov

  • RFE/RL

Uzbekistan has buried long-ruling President Islam Karimov, a day after the government announced the death of the authoritarian leader following a stroke at the age of 78.

Karimov was laid to rest on September 3 after an Islamic funeral ceremony -- attended by thousands of people, including foreign heads of states -- on the historic Registan Square in his hometown of Samarkand.

Foreign dignitaries, including Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, attended the ceremony, which began with religious prayers.

Neighboring Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan sent their prime ministers to the funeral.

Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev, the head of the commission organizing the funeral, gave a speech in the ceremony and paid tribute to Karimov, whom he called the "founder of the state" and a "great and dear son of the nation."

Earlier that day, state television channels showed Karimov’s coffin -- draped in the national flag -- arriving at Samarkand International Airport after departing from Tashkent hours earlier.

Karimov’s wife, Tatyana Karimova, and his younger daughter, Lola Tillyaeva-Karimova, were walking behind the coffin.

Karimov’s elder daughter, Gulnara -- who fell out of favor and was reportedly place under house arrest in 2014 amid corruption allegations -- did not appear at the ceremony.

Thousands of people were lined up along the roads as Karimov's funeral cortege made its way through the city from the airport to what the state TV described as the president’s ancestral home.

Earlier in the day, similar scenes were seen in Tashkent, where thousands lined up along the city’s main thoroughfare as a cortege carried Karimov's casket to the airport.

Many mourners held flowers, mostly red roses, which they laid on the road as the funeral train, which set out at 6 a.m. local time, drove by on its way to the airport.

State television showed soldiers loading a coffin onto a plane for what it described as Karimov's final journey to Samarkand.

Shavkat Mirziyoyev

Shavkat Mirziyoyev

PROFILE: Shavkat Mirziyaev

Uzbekistan announced Karimov’s death late on September 2, following days of unconfirmed reports suggesting the only post-independence leader of Central Asia's most-populous country had already died.

State TV said Karimov had died in Tashkent at 8:55 p.m. local time on September 2 of a brain hemorrhage.

The government announced a three-day period of national mourning.

Karimov, a 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 tight lid on dissent.

He presided over what activists said was the systematic suppression of political dissent, forced labor in Uzbekistan's cotton fields, and the frequent use of torture by law enforcement and security forces.

Each of Karimov’s landslide election wins since 1991 have been dismissed by the West as neither free nor fair, and two were disputed by critics citing a constitutional ban on Uzbek presidents serving more than two terms.

It is unclear who is currently in charge of the nation of around 30 million.

Nigmatulla Yuldashev

Nigmatulla Yuldashev

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.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed condolences to Yuldashev, saying Karimov's death was a "heavy loss for Uzbekistan."

"I grieve for the loss of a friend whom I worked with side-by-side for 30 years," Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev said.

Both Russia and Kazakhstan -- as well as neighboring Kyrgyzstan -- sent their prime ministers, not presidents, to the funeral.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who visited Tashkent in June, mourned the loss of a "true friend" who he said had made "historic contributions" to Uzbekistan's development and prosperity, in part by cultivating ties with China.

U.S. President Barack Obama said "at this challenging time...the United States reaffirms its support for the people of Uzbekistan," in a statement that avoided lauding the deceased autocrat.

"As Uzbekistan begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to partnership with Uzbekistan, to its sovereignty, security, and to a future based on the rights of all its citizens," the statement said.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, Reuters, and AP
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