Uzbek leader seriously ill, misses key independence day speech for first time in 25 years
President Islam Karimov has been in power since 1991 and has no apparent successor
Uzbekistan’s veteran president, Islam Karimov, who suffered a brain haemorrhage at the weekend according to his daughter, failed to deliver his traditional independence day address for the first time in 25 years on Wednesday.
His daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, earlier thanked well-wishers for their messages of support which she said were helping her father’s recovery – a move aimed at countering reports in some media this week that he had died.
Karimov, 78, has run the president, Islam Karimov and has no apparent immediate successor.
With him now apparently in intensive care and with a power vacuum possibly looming, authorities hastily redrew plans for marking national day on September 1 and a state television presenter stepped in on Wednesday night to read a brief independence day text on Karimov’s behalf.
The newscaster made no mention of Karimov or his illness.
Had a senior official been allotted the task, the choice of speaker may have identified a likely successor. State media avoided identifying by name any of the top government officials who turned out at a flower-laying ceremony.
The Tashkent government has made no statement since saying on Sunday that Karimov was in hospital.
Karimov took over at the helm of the then ruling communist party in 1989 and hung on to power when Uzbekistan became independent of the Soviet Union in 1991.
He has ruled Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s most populous state with 32 million people, with an iron fist since, showing little tolerance of internal dissent.
He has presented himself as a bulwark of stability in a country situated on the northern borders of Afghanistan which controls vast reserves of gold, oil, gas and cotton and is criss-crossed by ethnic fault lines.
But his frequent warnings that he holds the line against a militant Islamist threat to the region have won quiet approval from Russia and the West, despite Western unease over his tight policies at home.
Though the government had no new statement on his condition on Wednesday, it cancelled an event which used to take place annually at which Karimov met the public to commemorate victims of Soviet-era repressions.
It also cancelled a concert for senior officials and diplomats which used to take place every year on the eve of independence day.
Tashkent city authorities said they would press ahead with Thursday festivities for the wider public, although they were putting off evening fireworks because of a football game between Uzbekistan and Syria national teams.
Karimov has no sons, who might have been regarded as heirs apparent in the patriarchal culture. His elder daughter, Gulnara, has not appeared in public since several media reported in 2014 that she had been placed under house arrest.
State television ran its regular entertainment programming including feature films and quiz shows and the streets of the capital on Wednesday were peaceful with no signs of increased security presence.
Ordinary Uzbeks mostly wished Karimov a speedy recovery when they spoke to the press.
“We are really worried since we had heard that our president has fallen ill. We wish him long life”, said Gulbadanbegim, a medical college graduate.
“We are celebrating the 25th anniversary of our independence to which his contribution was great. We wish him quick recovery and never to fall ill.”
But privately, some said people were gripped by fear and uncertainty.
“My wife says no one knows what is going on and people do not ask each other [about any news on Karimov],” said a Kazakh man whose Uzbek wife was with her family in Uzbekistan.
“She says she’s afraid to discuss this even with her mom.”