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Uzbekistan Announces Death Of President Karimov

Obituary: Islam Karimov
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WATCH: Obituary: Islam Karimov

Uzbek state TV has announced the death of President Islam Karimov, following days of unconfirmed reports suggesting the only post-independence leader of Central Asia's most populous country had already died.

The Uzbek presenter read a statement from the Uzbek cabinet and parliament, which hailed Karimov as "a great historic figure."

The anchor said the 78-year-old Karimov had died at 8:55 p.m. local time the same day of a stroke. He also said a funeral would be held on September 3 in the late president's birthplace, the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand.

Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev was appointed head of a commission organizing Karimov's funeral.

The 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 firm lid on dissent. His regime was accused of routinely torturing detainees and jailing political opponents.

Karimov has no apparent successor, and speculation has raged for days that a secretive effort was under way to replace a figure who dominated Uzbek political life for a generation.

It is unclear who is currently in charge of the Central Asian nation of around 29 million.

The Uzbek Constitution states that if the president dies or 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, who has led the upper house since January 2015.

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," Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev said.

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."

READ MORE: Who Could Replace Karimov?

Even before the official announcement of Karimov's death, foreign leaders were expressing condolences to Uzbekistan over Karimov's purported death.

Preparations also appeared to be under way for a major state event in Samarkand.

Security sources told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev, who has been touted by outsiders as a possible successor, had made a trip to Samarkand. In Karimov's absence, Mirziyaev led a commemorative event in Tashkent on August 31 that marked the start of Independence Day celebrations.

Karimov's funeral is certain to draw leaders from throughout the former Soviet Union and the region.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon confirmed he will attend while Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani were reported to be also planning to go.

The Russian delegation at the funeral will be headed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, his spokeswoman Natalia Timakova was quoted as saying.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus said they were also sending delegations headed by their prime ministers.

Reuters reported that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev was cutting short a trip to China to fly to Uzbekistan.

INFOGRAPHIC: How Does Karimov's Rule Compare?

Rumors had swirled since the August 28 announcement of Karimov's hospitalization for what one of the president's daughters described the next day as a "brain hemorrhage."

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."

The presidents of Iran and Georgia also publicly expressed sadness over Karimov's passing before the official announcement.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported that district mayors and other officials had been 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 Samarkand, 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 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.

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

Muted Independence Day Celebrations

Uzbekistan celebrated Independence Day on September 1, with Karimov unprecedentedly absent but officials giving no indication of his condition.

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

But two days of public ceremonies were scaled back and scheduled appearances by Karimov, who issued the Uzbek declaration of sovereignty 25 years ago and has ruled ever since, have been canceled.

A holiday speech traditionally delivered by Karimov was read out by a state television anchor during an evening news bulletin on August 31.

Along with Mirziyaev, who has been prime minister since 2003, observers have suggested that other possible successors might include Finance Minister Rustam Azimov and National Security Committee head Rustam Inoyatov.

'Repressive Regime'

International rights watchdogs and Western officials had long accused Karimov of brutal repression, and the country has never held an election deemed democratic by Western monitors.

Amnesty International says Uzbekistan’s "repressive regime" is unlikely to change after Karimov’s death.

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."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, Reuters, AP, AFP, TASS,, RIA Novosti, and Interfax
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