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03 September 2016

Uzbekistan buries President Islam Karimov

ubex   The funeral of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov, who died after a stroke this week aged 78, has been taking place in the city of Samarkand.

Thousands earlier lined the streets of the capital, Tashkent, throwing flowers as his cortege passed.

Karimov, one of Asia’s most autocratic leaders, ruled for 27 years, and was accused by human rights groups of harshly repressing dissent.

Saturday’s funeral comes amid uncertainty over who will succeed him.

However, the event in Samarkand – Karimov’s home city – was being overseen by Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

Mr Mirziyoyev has been in office since 2003. His deputy, Rustam Azimov, is also seen as a key player.

Three days of mourning are being observed.

The official announcement of Islam Karimov’s death came on Friday night. But Turkey’s PM had sent condolences to Tashkent hours earlier – live on television – saying that the Uzbek leader had already died.

The Georgian president soon followed suit. The government in Tashkent has now released a medical report saying that Karimov suffered a massive stroke last weekend and never regained consciousness. He died on Friday after his heart stopped for a second time, the statement says, and a team of doctors – including foreign specialists – could not resuscitate him.

Karimov ruled for more than a quarter of a century, without naming a successor, so his death could well spark a struggle for power behind the scenes.

When Soviet leaders died, people would check who led the funeral commission for a clue as to who would take over. That could make Mr Mirziyoyev the man to watch. But, for Uzbekistan, all this is unprecedented and uncertain.

‘Irreplaceable loss’

On Saturday, a funeral cortege carried the president’s body to Tashkent airport.

His wife Tatyana Karimova and younger daughter Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, dressed in black and wearing headscarves, were shown in tears as the coffin was loaded on to a plane for the short flight to Samarkand.

Uzbek state TV then showed footage of mourners carrying Karimov’s coffin through Samarkand’s historic Registan square.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and the presidents of ex-Soviet states Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were among those attending.

Mr Mirziyoyev said at the funeral: “Our people and Uzbekistan have suffered an irreplaceable loss. Death took from our midst the founder of the state of Uzbekistan, a great and dear son of our people.”

Karimov’s other daughter, Gulnara, once seen as a possible successor but now believed to be under house arrest, was not seen at the ceremony.

News of Karimov’s death was finally confirmed after several foreign leaders and diplomatic sources reported it on Friday, following days of rumours that he had already died.

US President Barack Obama said in a statement the US remained “committed to partnership with Uzbekistan, to its sovereignty, security, and to a future based on the rights of all its citizens. for the people of Uzbekistan”.

Expressing his condolences in a statement (in Russian), Russian President Vladimir Putin described Mr Karimov as a statesman “who had contributed to the security and stability of Central Asia” and who would be a “great loss for the people of Uzbekistan”.

‘Repression unchallenged’

A United Nations report has described the use of torture under Mr Karimov as
“systematic”.

The late leader often justified his strong-arm tactics by highlighting the danger from Islamist militancy in the mainly Muslim country, which borders Afghanistan.

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