TASHKENT , Uzbekistan, Sept. 2 (UPI) — Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s first and only president to date, died Friday after spending nearly a week in the hospital with a brain hemorrhage.
Karimov had been in power in the former Soviet state since 1989. Several news outlets reported his death Friday.
Earlier this week the authoritarian regime reported that Karimov, 78, was ill and his daughter Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, announced he had a cerebral hemorrhage. He had not been seen in public since August, and plans for Uzbekistan’s Independence Day observances on Thursday were canceled.
Earlier Friday, Karimov’s regime stated that he was near death.
“Dear compatriots, it is with a heavy heart that we inform you that the health of our president has sharply deteriorated in the past 24 hours to reach a critical state,” a government statement said.
Turkey’s prime minister, Binali Yildirim, offered Uzbekistan condolences on Karimov’s death during a press conference Friday.
In Uzbekistan, the largest country in Central Asia to emerge from the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Karimov’s presidency has been marked by political repression, human rights violations and suppression of opposition opinion.
While freedom of speech has been subdued, so have Islamist movements, and Karimov’s demise could present an opportunity for Muslim radicals to exploit a power vacuum, USA Today reported. Uzbekistan, where Islam is widely practiced, has been a reliable source of Islamic State recruits.
It was not immediately clear who might succeed Karimov as Uzbek’s second president.