Moscow-Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov, who has ruled the country for very long years, died Friday, the government announced.
“Dear compatriots, it is with huge grief in our hearts that we announce to you the death of our dear president,” a state TV presenter said, reading an official statement.
Karimov, 78, ruled the country for more than 25 years. It is not clear who his successor will be.
He had been hospitalized after suffering a stroke earlier in the week, according to his official website.
The strongman’s funeral will be held in his home city of Samarkand on Saturday as the country begins three days of mourning.
The head of the Senate, Nigmatilla Yuldoshev, became acting President after Karimov’s death.
Born on January 30, 1938, Karimov was raised in an orphanage in the ancient city of Samarkand, before studying mechanical engineering and economics and rising up the ranks of the Communist Party to become head of Soviet Uzbekistan in 1989.
When his country gained independence in 1991, he made sure there were no opposition parties.
Many non-governmental organizations have accused Karimov, who was reelected in 2015, of rigging the elections and of arresting hundreds of opposition members and resorting to torture in prisons.
Karimov has not appointed a successor.
His elder daughter, Gulnara Karimova, who once dominated the business world in Uzbekistan, had lost the chance to become her father’s successor after she compared him to Stalin.
She fell out of favor and has reportedly been under house arrest by Uzbek security forces since 2014.
That’s why Karimov’s death could lead to a power struggle among the country’s political elite.
“There are two questions now: First, is there a plan for succession we don’t know about? Second, even if there is, will the principals stick to it?” said Scott Radnitz, an associate professor at the University of Washington.
In theory the head of the senate should step in if Karimov dies or is incapable of ruling, but analysts dismissed him as a water-carrier.
Instead those tipped to take over more long term in the case of Karimov’s long illness or death include Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov, Kamoliddin Rabbimov.
Apart from them, security service chief Rustam Inoyatov could become kingmaker.
According to the constitution, Yuldoshev is supposed to take over and elections must take place within three months. However, analysts do not consider Yuldoshev a serious player.