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Mr. Karimov rose through the ranks of the local Communist Party until the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev named him first secretary and effectively Uzbekistan’s chief in 1989. He won a presidential election after independence in 1991 and used Soviet methods to govern the country.
“He is the state and the state is him, and it has been that way for at least 25 years,” said Steve Swerdlow, the director of Central Asia research at Human Rights Watch.
. . . The immediate succession is expected to follow the Constitution, which mandates that the head of the Senate run the country for three months until new presidential elections can be organized. Mr. Karimov repeatedly manipulated elections or referendums to extend his rule well beyond the two terms mandated by the Constitution.
Such voting, which critics called fraudulent, always had a preordained conclusion. He won his latest presidential term in March 2015 with over 90 percent of the vote.
Mr. Karimov jailed or exiled his political opponents and muzzled the news media. Political prisoners were estimated to number in the thousands. Torture was rife. He brushed aside any criticism that managed to bubble up despite the oppression.Continue reading the main story
“I am one of those who is criticized for staying too long,” he said in 2014. “But I want to keep working. What’s wrong with that?”
An estimated one million Russians still live in Uzbekistan, though the population of more than 31 million is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. Mr. Karimov, who crushed an Islamic insurgency after surviving anassassination attempt by Islamic militants in 1999, was considered a bulwark against the spread of any jihadist threat in the region.
With him gone, there was some question whether the Islamic State or other groups might try to exploit the transition to re-emerge. “Whether or not the Islamic State sees a succession as an opportunity to create risks for the much-hated Russians remains an open question,” said Cliff Kupchan, an expert on Russia and chairman of the Eurasia Group, a risk advisory firm based in Washington.
In 1999, Mr. Karimov made his position toward radical Islam abundantly clear.
“I am prepared to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, in order to save peace and calm in the republic,” he told reporters. “If my child chose such a path, I myself would rip off his head.”
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