World Bulletin / News Desk
Strongman Uzbek leader Islam Karimov is in critical condition with his health worsening "sharply" days after he suffered a stroke, an official statement said Friday, as rumours swirl over his condition.
"Dear compatriots, it is with a very heavy heart that we inform you that yesterday the condition of our president deteriorated sharply and, according to doctors, it is evaluated as critical," the statement posted on a government website said.
The terse announcement -- which was also reportedly published in state newspapers on Friday -- confirmed that Karimov, 78, who has dominated the ex-Soviet nation for over 25 years, was hospitalised last Saturday following a stroke.
Speculation over the president's condition has swept the very tightly-controlled Central Asian nation since officials first said last Sunday that he had been hospitalised, with opposition media based outside the country claiming that he has already died.
The veteran leader's youngest daughter Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva on Monday announced on social media that he was in "stable" condition in intensive care after a cerebral haemorrhage, before hinting two days later that he was making a recovery.
Opposition outlet Fergana news agency reported on Thursday that work was going on in preparation for Karimov's funeral in his hometown of Samarkand, with part of the city centre cordoned off and the streets being cleaned.
Long lambasted by rights groups for brutally crushing dissent, Karimov has ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist since before it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Despite persistent claims over his health in recent years, Karimov has not left any clear successor -- with some now speculating that a power struggle is under way to replace him.
In theory the head of the senate should step in if Karimov dies or is incapable of ruling, but analysts have dismissed him as a water-carrier.
Instead the frontrunners to take over long term are believed to be Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, known as a tough-guy enforcer, and Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov.
The country's powerful security chief Rustam Inoyatov, who has held the post since 1995 and is seen as the regime's grey cardinal, has a reputation tainted by violent suppression of protesters and is already 72.
Karimov's elder daughter Gulnara, a flamboyant figure formerly seen as a potential heir, has dropped out of the running after she was placed under house arrest in 2014.
The socialite business magnate fell from grace after a bitter family feud burst into the open as she accused her mother and younger sister of sorcery, compared her father to Stalin and assailed Inoyatov for corruption and harbouring presidential ambitions on Twitter.
Born on January 30, 1938 Karimov was raised in an orphanage in the ancient city of Samarkand, before studying mechanical engineering and economics and rising up Communist Party ranks to become head of Soviet Uzbekistan in 1989
His regime has repeatedly been accused of heinous rights abuses -- including torturing opponents and using forced mass labour in the lucrative cotton industry.
Most seriously the authorities have been accused of killing hundreds of protesters in the eastern city of Andijan in 2005.
In the wake of the international criticism over the alleged massacre, which Karimov's regime rebuffed, Tashkent shut down a US military base used to supply operations in neighbouring Afghanistan since 2001.
But the wily veteran has played Russia, China and the West against each other to keep Uzbekistan from total isolation and continues to receive US aid.
Last Mod: 02 Eylül 2016, 08:59