MOSCOW – Strongman Uzbek leader Islam Karimov is in critical condition, with his health worsening “sharply” days after he suffered a stroke, an official statement said Friday.
“Dear compatriots, it is with a very heavy heart that we inform you that yesterday the condition of our president deteriorated sharply and, according to doctors, it is evaluated as critical,” the statement posted on a government website said.
The terse statement — which was also reportedly published in state newspapers on Friday — confirmed that Karimov, 78, who has dominated the former Soviet nation for over 25 years, was hospitalized last Saturday following a stroke.
Rumors have swirled over the president’s condition since officials first said last Sunday that he had been hospitalized, with opposition media based outside the very tightly controlled Central Asian nation claiming that he has already died.
The veteran leader’s youngest daughter Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva on Monday announced on social media that he was in “stable” condition in intensive care after a cerebral hemorrhage, before hinting two days later that he was making a recovery.
Opposition outlet Fergana news agency reported on Thursday that work was going on in preparation for Karimov’s funeral in his hometown of Samarkand, with part of the city center cordoned off and the streets being cleaned.
Long lambasted by rights groups for brutally crushing dissent, Karimov has ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist since before it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Born on Jan. 30, 1938, Karimov was raised in an orphanage in the ancient city of Samarkand, before studying mechanical engineering and economics and rising up Communist Party ranks to become head of Soviet Uzbekistan in 1989.
Despite persistent claims over his health in recent years, Karimov has not left any clear successor — with some now speculating that a power struggle is under way to replace him.
In theory, the head of the senate should step in if Karimov dies or is incapable of ruling, but analysts dismissed him as a water-carrier.
Instead, the front-runners to take over long term are believed to be Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, known as a tough-guy enforcer, and Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov.
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