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Uzbeks Praise, Revile Karimov On Social Media Amid Official Silence Over Health

There has been much speculation about the health of Uzbek President Islam Karimov since it was announced that he was hospitalized earlier this week. (file photo)

Amid persistent silence from Uzbekistan's government over the health of President Islam Karimov, Uzbeks inside and outside the country are taking to social media to wish him well or to wish him dead.

The emotionally charged posts reflect the controversial nature of Karimov, who has ruled ex-Soviet Central Asia's most populous nation for all 25 years of its existence as an independent country.

To judge by the messages flooding social media sites in Uzbek and Russian, he is either loved or hated by his countrymen, with little room in between. The 78-year-old leader presents himself as a bulwark of stability as he heads a state regularly rated by human rights groups as one of the world's most intolerant of political opposition.

The government has said nothing about Karimov since it announced on August 28 that he had been hospitalized, without saying what was wrong. His daughter said the next day on Instagram that he had suffered a brain hemorrhage.

One apparent admirer posted a video on Facebook of a woman praying emotionally for Karimov's recovery. "We are asking God to give him health. The whole nation is praying. Let the Almighty give him strength," she wails.

Another admirer posted a photograph of a young girl holding a sign written in crayon and bearing pictures of the Uzbek leader. The sign reads: "Dear Grandad, live to be 100 years old!"

A young girls holds up a sign saying she hopes the Uzbek president lives to be a hundred.
A young girls holds up a sign saying she hopes the Uzbek president lives to be a hundred.

It was impossible to determine whether the authorities were behind any of the messages praising Karimov.

But if posts wishing him well seem loaded with emotion, his detractors are equally passionate as they welcome what they hope is his death.

"For me a donkey has died," said one opponent, holding up a handwritten sign bearing the same words. He added in a brief spoken message that, even if Karimov has not expired "he is politically dead, anyway." Any comparison to a donkey is considered particularly offensive in Central Asia:

A Facebook user said that "for me Karimov has died like a dog and I am very happy about it." In saying Karimov has died he uses a Russian verb usually reserved only for animals:

Critics accuse Karimov of ruthlessly eviscerating all opposition in Uzbekistan -- most prominently with the alleged massacre of hundreds of protesters in the city of Andijon in 2005. They also say that he has monopolized the country’s wealth, mostly based upon cotton exports, while the average annual income is a little over $2,000.

Karimov's long rule and tight control has raised questions about succession and long-term stability in the Central Asian country of 28 million, which has never held an election judged free and fair by international monitors.

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