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Condolences Begin For Karimov Despite Official Silence On Uzbek Leader's Fate

  • RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

Uzbek President Islam Karimov

Uzbek President Islam Karimov

Foreign leaders were expressing condolences to Uzbekistan on September 2 over the purported death of that country's longtime president, Islam Karimov, despite official silence from Tashkent since an announcement earlier in the day that the 78-year-old strongman's health was deteriorating.

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

Uzbek authorities keep a notoriously tight grip on information and speculation has swirled since the August 28 announcement of Karimov's hospitalization that he is already dead and members of his close inner circle could be vying to succeed the only leader in Uzbekistan's post-Soviet history.

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."

But it was unclear where Turkish officials had gotten their information.

The presidents of Iran and Georgia all publicly expressed sadness over Karimov's passing.

Meanwhile, a senior Kyrgyz diplomat and an Afghan government official were quoted as saying Uzbekistan is holding a funeral for Karimov on September 3. They were both speaking to the AP agency on condition of anonymity.

The Afghan official said President Ashraf Ghani would attend Karimov's funeral on that date.

The Kyrgyz diplomat said the country's prime minister also had been invited to the Uzbek leader’s funeral.

And diplomatic source in Tajikistan told AFP that the country’s president was to fly to Uzbekistan on September 3, without saying where he was heading or why.

Reuters reported that Nursultan Nazarbaev, the president of neighboring Kazakhstan, will cut short a trip to China and fly to Uzbekistan on September 3.

There were also signs that Uzbekistan could be preparing for Karimov's funeral.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported that district mayors and other officials were 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 Karimov's birthplace of Samarkand, on the ancient Silk Road, 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 also 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.

There was no official Uzbek comment on the multiplying reports of Karimov's death, which came a few hours after the September 2 cabinet statement carried by Uzbekistan's official newspaper, Halq Sozi (People's Word), and read out on state TV.

It said Karimov was hospitalized on August 27 and that in the previous 24 hours his condition "saw a sharp deterioration and is considered critical by the doctors."

The statement was the first official word on Karimov since the cabinet announced on August 28 that he had been hospitalized, without saying what was wrong. His daughter said on Instagram the next day that he had suffered a "brain hemorrhage."

Uzbekistan celebrated Independence Day on September 1, with Karimov absent. The prolonged official silence had set off speculation that the only person to have led post-Soviet Central Asia's most populous country it declared independence in 1991 had died.

Reuters did not name its diplomatic sources. "Yes, he has died," it quoted one of them as saying.

READ MORE: Who Could Replace Karimov?

The statement and the report came amid signs that Uzbekistan could be preparting for Karimov's funeral.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported that district mayors and other officials were 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 Karimov's native city of Samarkand, on the ancient Silk Road, 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.

INFOGRAPHIC: How Does Karimov's Rule Compare?

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

Reuters also reported that Nursultan Nazarbaev, the president of neighboring Kazakhstan, will cut short a trip to China and fly to Uzbekistan on September 3.

Security sources told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev had also made a trip to the city.

Streets in the center of ailing Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s native city of Samarkand have been blocked off as cleaning and apparent construction work were taking place on a central square late on September 1.

Streets in the center of ailing Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s native city of Samarkand have been blocked off as cleaning and apparent construction work were taking place on a central square late on September 1.

In Karimov's absence, Mirziyaev led a commemorative event in Tashkent on August 31 that marked the start of Independence Day celebrations.

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

Uzbekistan In Numbers (click to enlarge)

Uzbekistan In Numbers (click to enlarge)

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

Until September 2, Uzbekistan's tightly controlled state media had not mentioned Karimov's illness, and it also remains unclear who is currently in charge of the Central Asian nation of around 30 million.

Karimov has no apparent successor, and observers suggest any such decision would likely be made within the Uzbek president's trusted circle.

International rights watchdogs and Western officials accuse Karimov of brutally suppressing perceived political opponents, and the country has never held an election deemed democratic by Western monitors.

Amid the reports of Karimov’s death, Amnesty International has said Uzbekistan’s "repressive regime" is unlikely to change after he is gone.

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," he added.

The Uzbek Constitution states that if the president is unable to perform his duties the head of the upper chamber of parliament, the Senate, assumes presidential authority for a period of three months.

No public comments have come from Senate Chairman Nigmatulla Yuldashev, who has led the upper house since January 2015.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, TASS, Gazeta.uz, RIA Novosti, and Interfax
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