Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov near death

TASHKENT , Uzbekistan, Sept. 2 (UPI) — Islam Karimov, whose authoritarian regime has led Uzbekistan since 1991, is gravely ill, a government website reported Friday.

“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.

Earlier this week the secretive regime reported Karimov, 78, was ill and his daughter Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, announced he had a cerebral hemorrhage. Karimov has not been seen in public since August, and plans for Uzbekistan’s Independence Day observances, Thursday, were canceled.

Some news sources reported Karimov’s death Friday, although there has been no confirmation from the government. 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 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, 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. Karimov has not groomed a successor, and Uzbekistan, where Islam is widely practiced, has been a reliable source of Islamic State recruits.

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