Uzbek President Islam Karimov has been hospitalized. His failing health raises questions about a successor and stability in Central Asia's most populous state.
In a rare statement on the reclusive leader's health, Uzbekistan's government on Sunday said President Islam Karimov has been hospitalized.
"According to specialists, full health screening and further treatment will take a certain period of time," it said, providing no additional details about the 78-year-old's health.
Karimov has ruled Uzbekistan with an iron grip for nearly 25 years, first as the republic's Communist Party chief in 1989, then as president when the country became independent in 1991 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The authoritarian leader has no clear successor, prompting concern his death could lead to a period of instability in the heart of Central Asia.
Karimov's eldest daughter, Gulnara, once thought to have been groomed to take over from her father, has not appeared in public since 2014 amid rumors she has been put under house arrest. She has been accused of widespread corruption by prosecutors in the United States and Europe.
Karimov's second daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, is Uzbekistan's ambassador to Paris-based UNESCO.
Russia, the United States and China all have geopolitical and economic interests in the region.
Uzbekistan allowed the United States to use a base in the country between 2001 and 2005 to supply American and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
But Karimov evicted the United States from the base when Washington criticized a crackdown on the 2005 uprising in Andijan, in which more than 700 people were killed by security forces.
Karimov blamed Islamic militants for the uprising.
The militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) conducted attacks in Uzbekistan in 1999, included an attempt to take Karimov's life. They later became active in Afghanistan, where they joined up with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Many IMU militants were killed by US forces during the invasion of Afghanistan. Some Uzbek militants in Afghanistan have since pledged allegiance to the so-called "Islamic State."
Karimov has used the threat of militant Islam to crack down on any opposition and control religion. The country has one of the world's most abysmal human rights records and is highly corrupt.
Human and labor groups accuse Uzbekistan, the world's fifth-largest cotton producer, of state-orchestrated forced labor of children and adults in the cotton harvest.
cw/kl (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)