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Uzbek Norouz Celebrations Canceled, President Fails To Appear

Security was tight in the Uzbek capital ahead of customary Norouz celebrations.
Security was tight in the Uzbek capital ahead of customary Norouz celebrations.
TASHKENT -- Uzbek authorities have canceled state-sponsored Norouz celebrations for the first time since Uzbekistan gained independence, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Officials said bad weather was the reason state festivities were not held on March 20. President Islam Karimov also failed to appear on television to make his traditional congratulatory address to the country from Navoi Park in Tashkent, where a Norouz gala concert is normally held.

Despite the official cancellations, Uzbeks held celebrations at their homes and families gathered to eat sweets and take walks in parks despite the rainy weather.

Uzbek state media has not made any public announcements about the Norouz celebrations or explained the cancellation of traditional events.

A Culture and Sports Ministry official told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that the official concert might still take place in Tashkent on March 23, but did not say whether Karimov would attend.

Popular Uzbek singers and dancers began rehearsing for the concert in Navoi Park some two weeks ago.

Security on March 21 remained high in downtown Tashkent, where people were prevented from going to the city's Independence Square.

One elderly resident, Abdumannon Kholjurayev, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that special police forces used tear gas as he and his wife tried to enter the square.

The blackout regarding Norouz festivities and Karimov's failure to appear on TV has led to speculation that the seventy-two-year-old leader might be ill.

Karimov was last seen on March 16-17 when he met with visiting Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Tashkent and held a press conference.