Uzbekistan faces future without President Karimov in power

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By Robert Hackwill  with AISSA BOUKANOUN
Uzbekistan faces future without President Karimov in power

Islam Karimov was born on January 30 1938 in Samarkand and has run the central Asian country for more than a quarter-century.

He made his way through the Communist party in the-then USSR, and his reign has been marked by long presidential terms, crushing electoral victories, and claimed mass participation at each election. Since the creation of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 1991 the country has known no other leader.

At the end of 2001 the Uzbeks found themselves courted by new friends America, needing air bases for their campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the new strategic ally was expelled in 2005. Despite this Tashkent maintained good relations with Washington.

The regime represses popular dissent under the pretext of countering terrorism. In May 2005 Karimov did not hesitate when faced with unrest and protests against corruption in the Ferghana valley in the east of the country.

His troops opened fire on protesters in the regional capital, Andijan, officially leaving 187 dead. Human rights activists say more than 300 died. The OSCE’s figures put the loss of life at between 300-500.

Karimov was re-elected in March last year for a fresh five-year term with more than 90% of the vote, a result that surprised no-one as there was no real opposition. Western electoral monitors reported many irregularities and were critical of the poll.

Several NGOs have accused the regime of regularly holding fraudulent elections and the arbitrary arrest of hundreds of opponents. Karimov himself has been criticised for having allowed the use of torture.

But on August 27 2016 Karimov was incapacitated by a stroke and went onto life support.
A successor to the iron hand that held 30 million people in its grasp has yet to be found or announced, but one thing is clear. The authorities find themselves faced with a challenge unprecedented in the nation’s post-Soviet history.

The two men most often cited as likely successors appear to be the prime minister and his deputy, Chavkat Mirzioïev and Rostam Azimov, and they are reportedly political rivals.

Karimov grew up in an ophanage before studying machanics and economics. He has two daughters with his economist wife Tatiana Akbarovna Karimova, and three grandchildren.