Tashkent: Uzbek President Islam Karimov has died aged 78 after suffering a stroke, three diplomatic sources said on Friday, leaving no obvious successor to take over the Central Asian nation.
The Uzbek government did not immediately confirm the reports. Earlier on Friday it said the health of Karimov, who has been in hospital since last Saturday, had sharply deteriorated. Long criticized by the West and human rights groups for his authoritarian style of leadership, Karimov had ruled Uzbekistan since 1989, first as the head of the local Communist Party and then as president of the newly independent republic from 1991.
“Yes, he has died,” one of the diplomatic sources said when asked about Karimov’s condition.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim became the first foreign leader to offer condolences over the death of Karimov. The two countries have close ethnic, cultural and linguistic ties. Karimov did not designate a successor and analysts say the transition of power is likely to be decided behind closed doors by a small group of senior officials and family members.
If they fail to agree on a compromise, however, open confrontation could destabilize Uzbekistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan and has become a target for Islamist militants.
Uzbekistan is a major cotton exporter and is also rich in gold and natural gas.