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Uzbekistan’s president is probably dead — but the government won't confirm it

Islam Karimov's death was revealed by the Turkish prime minister on Friday, hours after the Uzbek government acknowledged Karimov was seriously ill.

by Rachel Browne
Sep 2 2016, 2:55pm

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

The president of Uzbekistan, one of the world's most authoritarian regimes, has died after more than 27 years in power, according to Turkey's prime minister. Islam Karimov's death was announced during a televised meeting with Turkish cabinet ministers on Friday, even though the Uzbek government has yet to provide official acknowledgement.

Funeral music has been playing on the state media channels.

Karimov, who was 78, reportedly suffered a brain haemorrhage last week, although his government only described him as being critically ill. In March, his term as leader of central Asia's most populous country was extended by another five years in an election deemed a farce by international democracy observers.

Reuters reported on Friday that three diplomatic sources confirmed the dictator's death, and that another official announcement about his funeral would come later in the day.

Karimov rose to power in 1989 and has long been decried by human rights group for using harsh tactics to block any opposition and stifle freedom of speech. In 2005, hundreds of peaceful protesters were killed by government forces in the city of Andijan, leading to a crumbling of relations with many Western nations including the US.

A recent UN report slammed Uzbekistan's use of mass detentions and "systematic" torture of political opponents. Human Rights Watch's 2016 report on the nation highlighted how the state forces millions of citizens to harvest cotton there under exploitative conditions.

Experts are warning of a power vacuum in Uzbekistan, as Karimov never named a successor. A likely contender for his role is the country's finance minister.

His eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova, was viewed as a potential successor until 2014, when she was placed under house arrest after she released a flurry of Tweets describing the power struggle in her family and widespread government corruption.

Uzbek news channels are reporting his funeral will take place on Saturday in his hometown of Samarkand, where members of his family are buried.

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne

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