Uzbek leader buried amid praise from his cabinet

Uzbekistan’s authoritarian leader Islam Karimov was hailed as a statesman and democrat by his government as he was laid to rest Saturday.
People gather to pay their last respect during the funeral of President Islam Karimov at the historic Registan Square in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, early Saturday, September 3, 2016. (AP Photo)
People gather to pay their last respect during the funeral of President Islam Karimov at the historic Registan Square in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, early Saturday, September 3, 2016. (AP Photo)

MOSCOW // Uzbekistan’s authoritarian leader Islam Karimov was hailed as a statesman and democrat by his government as he was laid to rest Saturday.

The coffin of 78-year-old Karimov, whose death from a cerebral haemorrhage was announced Friday, was placed in the renowned Registan square of Samarkand, an ancient city on the silk road.

The square is surrounded on three sides by Islamic schools covered in intricate, colourful tiles and topped with aqua cupolas.

Thousands of men packed the square to hear a mufti give a funeral prayer that said “Islam Karimov served his people.”

Leaders from around the world expressed their condolences to Uzbekistan, including Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, and other leaders from the Emirates.

Karimov’s body was then taken to the Shah-i-Zinda necropolis for burial.

Karimov became the leader of Uzbekistan in 1989, when it was a Soviet republic, and held power with ruthless determination throughout all of Uzbekistan’s independence. He crushed opposition, repressed the media and was repeatedly denounced by activists abroad for human rights violations including killings and torture.

His cabinet, however, said 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.”

Karimov cultivated no apparent successor, and his death raised concerns that the predominantly Sunni Muslim country could face prolonged infighting among clans over its leadership, something its extremists could exploit.

Uzbekistan is ex-Soviet central Asia’s most populous country and borders Afghanistan, making it of strategic interest to Russia and the United States.

President Obama said the U remains committed to its partnership with Uzbekistan as the country “begins a new chapter in its history.”

Alexei Pushkov, head of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, retorted on Twitter that Mr Obama “is mistaken if he thinks this new chapter will be written in Washington.”

“The death of Islam Karimov may open a pretty dangerous period of unpredictability and uncertainty in Uzbekistan,” Mr Pushkov told the Tass news agency.

Given the lack of access to the strategic country, it’s hard to judge how powerful the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan might be. Over the years, the group has been affiliated with the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIL, and it has sent many 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 of unarmed demonstrators with machine guns during a 2005 uprising, he jailed thousands of political opponents, and his henchmen reportedly boiled some dissidents to death.

“He left a terrible legacy. His successors will actively try to continue his policies,” said opposition blogger Nadezhda Atayeva, who fled to France in 2000.

Two top officials are seen as likely successors to Karimov — prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Rustam Azimov, who is the finance minister and deputy prime minister.

Mr Azimov stands out for his management skills and his wide network of contacts, Mr Atayeva said, whereas “Mirziyoyev elicits more antipathy for his harsh character and corruption history.”

As the funeral took place, Mr Mirziyoyev met with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.

*Associated Press

Published: September 3, 2016 04:00 AM

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