With Uzbekistan’s Ruler Gravely Ill, Questions Arise on Succession

uzbekistanThe authoritarian president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, who has ruled the isolated Central Asian country for more than 25 years using old Soviet methods like forced labor for cotton harvesting, has been hospitalized with a stroke, his younger daughter announced Monday on Facebook.

Later on Monday, Ferghana, an Uzbek website banned at home since 2005, reported that Mr. Karimov had died in the afternoon, citing sources outside the government. The report was widely repeated by independent news outlets in Russia.

There was no official confirmation, however, and Russian outlets, such as the state-run RIA Novosti agency, quoted unidentified government officials in Uzbekistan as saying that the president remained alive and in stable condition.

The nightly news on the main Uzbekistan television channel did not refer to the story at all, mentioning the president as the active leader.

Daniil Kislov, the Moscow-based editor of Ferghana, said a “Brezhnev scenario” was possible, referring to the delayed announcement of the Soviet leader’s death in 1982.

Under the Constitution, upon Mr. Karimov’s death, the head of Uzbekistan’s Senate would run the country for three months to allow for new presidential elections. Presidential elections in Uzbekistan have always come with a known outcome.

With no son or obvious successor, the announcement that Mr. Karimov, 78, was gravely ill, or perhaps dead, immediately focused attention on who might succeed him.

“This is the question that worries everybody now,” Mr. Kislov said. No successor is likely to replace the secret police as the central power in the country, he predicted.

President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan
President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan

“Islam Karimov has built a very stable system of power, which is based on the power of the special services,” Mr. Kislov said in an interview. “Regardless of who is the main person in the country, the real power will be with the special services.”

Amid the conflicting accounts on Monday, there was no indication of public unrest or even disquiet in Uzbekistan, the largest country in Central Asia by far, with more than 31 million people.

Reports from Tashkent, the capital, indicated that the mood was business as usual, with the exception of a heavy military presence guarding the hospital where Mr. Karimov is being treated. State television aired a program about canning summer tomatoes, Peter Leonard, an editor with EurasiaNet, wrote on Twitter.

The way the announcement was made, however, indicated that Mr. Karimov was in grave condition. For the first time ever, the government issued a statement about his health, reporting on Sunday that the president had been hospitalized without providing any details.

Then on Monday, his younger daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, 38, the Uzbek ambassador to Unesco in Paris, posted her announcement on Facebook in Uzbek, Russian and English.

“I would like to write here about the sad events that befell our family last weekend,” she wrote. “My father was hospitalized after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage on Saturday morning, and is now receiving treatment in an intensive-care unit.”

Ms. Karimova-Tillyaeva said that her father was in stable condition and that it was too early for a prognosis. She asked for privacy, prayers and for “everyone to refrain from any speculation.”

The announcement prompted just that, however, given that Mr. Karimov has avoided appointing a successor.

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