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Uzbekistan: Ailing Agricultural Sector Prompts Appointment Of New Prime Minister

Prague, 11 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek President Islam Karimov fired his longtime Prime Minister Otkir Sultanov today, giving the job to the governor of central Uzbekistan's Samarkand region, Shavkat Mirziyayev.

"We decided to propose the candidacy of Shavkat Mirziyaev for the post of prime minister of the Republic of Uzbekistan," Karimov said.

He nominated Mirziyaev at a parliament session today, and lawmakers approved the appointment by a wide margin.

Karimov said Sultanov's cabinet had not paid enough attention to the country's vital agriculture sector. In addition to his experience in regional government, Mirziyaev is also a trained agricultural specialist.

"We came to conclusion that for the position of the prime minister, we need a person who is familiar with the problems of the remote regions, who knows the concerns and dreams of the people there and who is more experienced," said Karimov.

Karimov replaced the country's agriculture minister in May of this year.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Uzbekistan's agriculture sector accounts for about one-third of its total gross domestic product (GDP). Agricultural output grew in 2002 by 6.1 percent compared to the previous year, but growth for 2003 is expected to be lower. Agriculture growth during the first six months is only 3.8 percent year-on-year. Uzbekistan's cotton industry accounts for more than 41 percent of its principal exports.

The 64-year-old Sultanov -- a graduate of the Tomsk Polytechnical Institute -- was demoted to the position of deputy prime minister responsible for heavy industry, geology, and the chemical and energy sector. He had served as prime minister since 1995.

In announcing the change, Karimov praised Sultanov for his hard work over the years: "Prime Minister Otkir Sultanov did his best in his position. This person deserves respect for his hard work, his leadership, his attitude toward the people around him."

But Karimov noted that Sultanov's talents are better suited to the industrial sector.

"However, we have to admit that he is an expert much more in the field of heavy industry. First of all, he has experience in managing big industrial enterprises. But the agriculture sector and the needs of agriculture have been neglected. The solving of the problems in the agriculture field has been neglected," Karimov said.

In turn, the new prime minister indicated his readiness to accept his new responsibilities.

"I will put my soul and all my energy to improve the situation in remote regions. I will work 24 hours a day, and I will do my best to meet the expectations of you, Mr. President, and of the [parliament]," Mirziyaev said.

In July, Karimov criticized the government for its slowness in implementing economic reform. At that time, he said the government's most important priorities were perfecting economic management and more extensive internal reform.

(Adolat Najimova of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this story.)