Uzbekistan mourns its leader: Karimov, 27 years at helm of the country, is dead

The authorities and the citizens prepare to bury President Islam Karimov, who died following a stroke at age 78. He had been hospitalized for six days amid rumors about his death. The funeral held in Samarkand, his hometown. Russian prime minister and other regional leaders in attendance

Tashkent (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The authorities and the citizens of Uzbekistan are preparing to bury President Islam Karimov, one of the most authoritarian leaders in Asia, who died a few days ago at the age of 78. His death was confirmed yesterday by the Tashkent government, six days after his hospitalization following a stroke. The official announcement of his death follows days of uncertainty and alternation of rumors about the alleged disappearance of the head of state.

The country will observe three days of national mourning for the death of its decade-long leader.

Karimov led Uzbekistan for 27 years, without disdaining the use of an iron fist and repression - silent and systematic - of dissidents. He justified his use of force with the danger posed by Islamic extremist militias active in the country, particularly along the border with Afghanistan.

The funeral, scheduled for today in the hometown of Samarkand, comes amid great uncertainty about the fate of the country. To date there are no clear indications for succession; the presence of Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev at the funeral might be an opportunity to sanction his rise as a potential successor.

This morning, a funeral procession carried the body of the President to Tashkent airport, greeted along the way by uniformed policemen and citizens throwing flowers. His wife Tatyana Karimova and her daughter Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, both dressed in black and in tears, boarded the flight bound for Karimov’s hometown.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, along with many other regional leaders are expected to attend. US President Barack Obama sent a message renewing his nation’s friendship and cooperation with Uzbekistan and its people.

Under the Constitution Senate Speaker Nigmatulla Yuldashev will cover the functions of the President during the interim, pending new elections. However, according to experts he will hold the position for a long time. The challenge for the most important position in the country would be between the premier Mirziyoyev and his current deputy Rustam Azimov.