TASHKENT -- Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has dismissed powerful longtime National Security Service (MXX) chief Rustam Inoyatov, removing an influential insider who had been seen as his rival, two senior government officials have told RFE/RL.
Mirziyoev told a meeting of the Prosecutor-General's Office and the MXX on January 31 that Inoyatov, who is 73 and led the MXX for almost 23 years, had been replaced by Ihtiyor Abdullaev, the officials said.
They said that Mirziyoev, who has reshuffled Uzbekistan's ruling elite since he came to power following the death of authoritarian President Islam Karimov in 2016, strongly criticized the way the security service had been run.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make public statements about the matter.
Inoyatov, who holds the rank of colonel general, was one of a relatively small number of senior officials who had retained their posts since Karimov's death was announced in September 2016.
The MXX, the main successor of the Soviet-era KGB in Uzbekistan, is considered among the most closed and powerful agencies in the tightly controlled Central Asian country.
Inoyatov, who has avoided publicity and preferred to stay in the shadows, was one of the most influential officials in Uzbekistan for years.
When Karimov was dying after suffering a stroke following a quarter-century in power, many believed that Inoyatov would succeed him -- or more likely maneuver an ally into the presidency.
Speculation that Inoyatov was on his way out started circulating after Mirziyoev's December 22 speech to parliament, in which he harshly criticized the MXX and its leadership and called for immediate reforms in the agency.
Mirziyoev lambasted the security service, Interior Ministry, and Prosecutor-General's Office for what he called "systemic violations of ordinary people's rights," including the principle of presumed innocence.
Mirziyoev also stressed the importance of reforms in the address, saying that government actions must be based on democratic principles.
Uzbekistan's relations with Western countries and its neighbors were strained under Karimov, whose government was accused by human rights groups of severe and pervasive abuses.
In recent months, several public figures, journalists, and politicians jailed on what rights activists say were politically motivated charges have been released.
In October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Uzbek authorities had taken "some positive steps" during Mirziyoev's first year in office and called for "sustainable" improvements in human rights.
The rumors of Inoyatov's imminent ouster gained more traction this month when Mirziyoev demanded that MXX personnel be removed from Uzbek embassies abroad, saying ambassadors cannot be under surveillance as they are presidential envoys.
Abdullaev, 51, was the prosecutor-general until his appointment to replace Inoyatov.