Uzbek President Islam Karimov has been buried in his birthplace, the ancient city of Samarkand. His demise leaves the country in a state of uncertainty following his long rule.
Longtime Uzbek President Islam Karimov was buried on Saturday in his home city of Samarkand.
Karimov, 78, whose death from a cerebral hemorrhage had been announced on Friday, had ruled Uzbekistan since 1989, and was the only leader the nation has known since declaring independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The funeral was held with Muslim rites in the city's historic Registan square, with the ceremony attended by thousands of men, the Russian Interfax news agency reported. Women were excluded fromthe square, although images on state television showed crowds including both sexes lining the route of his funeral cortege in the capital, Tashkent.
Among those at the funeral were Afghan President Ashraf Gahani, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Following the ceremony, Karimov's body was taken to the Shah-i-Zinda necropolis, another architecturally significant site, for burial next to his mother and brothers.
The historic city center of Samarkand, which is known, among other things, as the site of the mausoleum of the brutal 14th centry warlord Tamerlane, was largely sealed off by police for the event.
Several opposition news outlets based abroad claimed that Karimov died some time prior to the announcement of his demise, with the government holding back the news in a manner reminiscent of the silence surrounding the deaths of Communist Party bosses during the Soviet era.
Reputation for cruelty
Karimov earned a reputation as a ruthless and cruel authoritarian who crushed any opposition to his quarter-century rule, often with force. Activists repeatedly denounced him for allegedly torturing and killing opponents, as well as repressing the media. There were even reports of his henchmen boiling some dissidents to death.
However, in a statement released before the funeral, Karimov's Cabinet praised him in eulogistic tones, saying that he was "an outstanding statesman who has developed and implemented a deeply thought-out strategy of building a democratic constitutional state with a civil society and a market economy."
Karimov's death leaves a power vacuum in the predominantly Sunni Muslim country, with no apparent successor having been chosen. Under Uzbek law, after the death of a president the head of the senate takes the reins temporarily until an election is held within three months.
But observers say that Karimov's death will likely trigger a period of jockeying for political influence, with the country's radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan - a group that has been affiliated over the years with the Taliban, al Qaeda and the "Islamic State" group - as one of the major contenders.
The question of the succession is of vital interest to the United States, Russia and China, who all have stakes in the Central Asia region, which has oil and gas reserves as well as metal ore.
tj/rc (Reuters, AP)