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Uzbek president in intensive care after stroke

August 29, 2016

Karimov was a communist party leader who has ruled with an iron fist over Uzbekistan since it became a state in 1991. His daughter says it is too early to determine when or if Karimov might return to the presidency.

Islam Karimov gestures, with a series of flags behind him.
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Shemetov

Talk of succession in the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan has begun as the country's authoritarian president, Islam Karimov, lies in an intensive care unit after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke, his younger daughter announced on Monday.

Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva described his condition as stable, but said his prospects for a recovery and return to power are unclear. The stroke occurred Saturday.

Karimov, 78, became the Communist Party leader in Uzbekistan in 1989, when the territory was still part of the Soviet Union. When the Union collapsed in 1991 Karimov became president of an independent Uzbekistan.

He has ruled virtually unchallenged since then, leaving the question of his succession in doubt.

Kamoliddin Rabbimov, an exiled Uzbek political scientist living in Paris, said top Uzbek officials would "probably flock to Karimov's bedside. They want to know what happens to Karimov next," he said.

"If it turns out that he will stay this way for long, they will probably cautiously launch the process of succession and call an election," Rabbimov said.

The country's constitution calls for the chairman of the Uzbek senate to seize the reins of power. But Rabbimov said Karimov has reserved that post for only "the weakest of the politicians" in order to ensure his grip on power.

Karimov's illness announced

Rabbimov added that he considers Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov to be the most likely successors, but Karimov has been reluctant to favor either of one them publicly - again, to solidify his own hold on power.

Usbekistan Tashkent Baumwollpflücker jäte Unkraut
Karimov accused of using slave labor in cotton fieldsImage: Getty Images/AFP/D. Sinyakov

Karimov's illness was first announced Sunday when the government issued a highly unusual statement reporting the president's hospitalization, but it gave no further details.

Security forces cordoned off the government hospital in the capital, Tashkent, where Karimov is being treated, amid growing fears of potential instability.

"At the moment, it is too early to make any forecasts about his condition in the future," Karimova-Tillyaeva wrote on her Instagram page on Monday. "I will be grateful to everyone who will support my father with prayers.

Despite being dwarfed in size by its northern neighbor, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan is Central Asia's most populous country, with more than 30 million people. It is also rich in oil, gas and gold reserves.

A successor is likely to be chosen by political insiders. A failure to reach a consensus could destabilize the predominantly Muslim country that has long been targeted by Muslim extremists influenced by the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

Rights advocates have long criticized Karimov's brutal human rights record. But the leader has successfully played off Russia, China and the West against each other to ensure his country remained relevant.

bik/kms (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)