Thursday 19 April 2018

Uzbekistan's autocratic president to be buried

People hold flowers as they gather along the road (AP)
People hold flowers as they gather along the road (AP)

Islam Karimov, whose harsh and ill-tempered rule governed Uzbekistan for a quarter of a century, is to be buried in his home city of Samarkand.

The death of 78-year-old Karimov, the only president Uzbekistan has had since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, was announced by the government on Friday after he suffered a stroke.

The end of Karimov's monolithic presidency leaves no apparent successor, as well as concern that the ensuing political uncertainty could leave an opening for Islamic extremists to coalesce.

On Saturday thousands of Uzbeks lined the streets in Tashkent as a cortege carried Karimov's coffin to the airport, from which it was to be flown to Samarkand, an ancient Silk Road city renowned for its Islamic architecture.


In a statement ahead of Karimov's burial, Uzbekistan's government hailed the authoritarian leader as a statesman and democrat though he was widely criticised abroad for harsh repression of dissent,

His coffin has been placed in the Registan, the renowned square flanked on three sides by madrassahs covered in intricate, colourful tiles and topped with aqua cupolas.

The Interfax news agency said the square was packed with thousands of men - women were excluded - to hear a mufti give a funeral prayer that said "Islam Karimov served his people".

The body was then taken to the Shah-i-Zinda necropolis, another architecturally significant site.

His Cabinet said in a statement that Karimov "attained a high authority in the country and in the international community as 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".

"The death of Islam Karimov may open a pretty dangerous period of unpredictability and uncertainty in Uzbekistan," Alexei Pushkov, head of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee, told the Tass news agency.

Given the lack of access to the strategic country, it is hard to judge how powerful the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan might be. Over the years, the group has been affiliated with the Taliban, al Qaida and the Islamic State group, and it has sent fighters abroad.

Under the Uzbek constitution, if the president dies his duties pass temporarily to the head of the senate until an election can be held within three months. However, the head of the Uzbek senate is regarded as unlikely to seek permanent power and Karimov's demise is expected to set off a period of jockeying for political influence.

Karimov was known as a tyrant with an explosive temper and a penchant for cruelty. His troops killed hundreds unarmed demonstrators with machine guns during a 2005 uprising, he jailed thousands of political opponents, and his henchmen reportedly boiled some dissidents to death.

Press Association

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