Uzbekistan Buries Its Leader Islam Karimov

People pay tribute to the late Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, as the funeral motorcade passes along a road in Tashkent on Sept. 3. People pay tribute to the late Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, as the funeral motorcade passes along a road in Tashkent on Sept. 3. 

The funeral of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov, who died after a stroke this week aged 78, has taken place in the city of Samarkand. Thousands earlier lined the streets of the capital, Tashkent, throwing flowers as his cortege passed.

He ruled for 27 years and is accused by human rights groups of harshly repressing dissent.

Saturday’s funeral comes amid uncertainty over who will succeed him. However, the occasion, in Karimov’s home city of Samarkand, will be overseen by Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, seen as a potential successor, BBC reported.

Three days of mourning are being observed.

A United Nations report has described the use of torture under Karimov as “systematic”. The late leader often justified his strong-arm tactics by highlighting the danger from militants in the mainly Muslim country, which borders Afghanistan.

On Saturday, a funeral cortege carried the president’s body to Tashkent airport. Video footage showed police officers saluting the car as it passed, with people throwing flowers in its path.

News of Karimov’s death was finally confirmed after several foreign leaders and diplomatic sources reported it on Friday, following days of rumors that he had already died. Reports from diplomatic sources suggested several regional leaders were making plans to visit Samarkand for the funeral, with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev expected to represent Russia.

US President Barack Obama said in a statement the US remained “committed to partnership with Uzbekistan, to its sovereignty, security, and to a future based on the rights of all its citizens for the people of Uzbekistan”.

Expressing his condolences in a statement (in Russian), Russian President Vladimir Putin described Karimov as a statesman “who had contributed to the security and stability of Central Asia” and who would be a “great loss for the people of Uzbekistan”.

President Putin addressed his message to Uzbek senate leader, Nigmatulla Yuldashev who, under the constitution, becomes acting president pending early elections

Yuldashev is unlikely to fill the presidential role more permanently, analysts say. Mirziyoyev has been in office since 2003 and his deputy, Rustam Azimov, is also seen as a key player.

Anna Neistat, a senior director of research with Amnesty International, told the BBC the late leader had repressed dissent unchallenged by the international community.

“For years and years, Karimov was shutting down any type of opposition, throwing in jail anybody who he believed could challenge the regime,” she said.

During a crackdown in the eastern city of Andijan in 2005, hundreds of people were killed.

After a wave of car bombs targeted Tashkent in 1999, Karimov said: “I am ready to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, for the sake of peace and tranquility in the country. If a child of mine chose such a path, I myself would rip off his head.”

His followers argued that curbs on freedom were a small price to pay for law and order.