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Pomp and tight control as Uzbekistan buries strongman Karimov

People attend the funeral ceremony of the late Uzbek President Islam Karimov at Samarkand's Registan square on September 3, 2016. Uzbekistan laid strongman President Islam Karimov to rest on September 3 amid tight security, after his death triggered the deepest period of uncertainty in the country's post-Soviet history with no clear successor in view. Karimov, 78, was pronounced dead late Friday after suffering a stroke last weekend and falling into a coma, authorities said, following days of speculation about his rapidly failing health.  / AFP PHOTO / HO / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / Kyrgyzstan Government Press Service  - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

People attend the funeral ceremony of the late Uzbek President Islam Karimov at Samarkand’s Registan square on September 3, 2016.<br />Uzbekistan laid strongman President Islam Karimov to rest on September 3 amid tight security, after his death triggered the deepest period of uncertainty in the country’s post-Soviet history with no clear successor in view. Karimov, 78, was pronounced dead late Friday after suffering a stroke last weekend and falling into a coma, authorities said, following days of speculation about his rapidly failing health.<br />/ AFP PHOTO / HO / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / Kyrgyzstan Government Press Service – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Crowds lined the roads on Saturday as Central Asian Uzbekistan buried Islam Karimov — the only leader the nation has known since independence — amid pomp and high security in the splendour of his home city Samarkand.

Tightly-controlled state television interrupted hours of traditional mourning music to show footage tracing the journey of Karimov’s coffin from the hospital in the capital Tashkent to a Muslim ceremony on the turquoise-domed World Heritage site Registan square in Samarkand.

“During the years of our independence development under the guidance of our first leader our country has made impressive progress in all areas,” intoned the grave TV presenter.

“Peace, progress, prosperity, stability and enlightenment.”

The authoritarian Karimov, 78, was pronounced dead late Friday after suffering a stroke last weekend and falling into a coma, authorities in the ex-Soviet country said, after evidence stacked up that they were hiding his death.

During his brutal quarter-century rule — which rights groups say relied on torture and forced labour — Karimov earned a reputation abroad as one of the region’s most savage despots who ruthlessly crushed any criticism.

Well-informed opposition news outlets based abroad had claimed Karimov’s body was already brought to Samarkand ahead of the official announcement of his death, as the government delayed admitting his fate in a silence reminiscent of that which surrounded the deaths of Communist Party bosses during the Soviet period.

– ‘World class’ –

Images on state TV showed people crowding the route of his funeral cortege, flinging flowers and weeping as the coffin passed.

Karimov’s body was then loaded by soldiers onto an aircraft bound for Samarkand in front of his black-clad widow and youngest daughter.

“He was our dear president, who did so much for our country, things that we could not even see or know about,” one woman interviewed, wiping tears from her eyes.

“He made our country world class.”

The historic centre of Samarkand — which houses the mausoleum of brutal 14th century warlord Tamerlane — was in lockdown with police cordoning off most of the area and stopping ordinary citizens and cars from entering.

An AFP journalist who managed to get close to the famed Registan Square saw national flags decorated with black ribbons hung up and flowers covering the road heading to the elite cemetry where Karimov was buried.

Uzbek television showed a crowd of several thousand mourners — including President Ashraf Ghani from neighbouring Afghanistan — standing amid the towering madrassas as Karimov’s coffin was borne along by men in white shirts.

A mufti was also shown saying a prayer over the body of the former Communist party apparatchik who portrayed himself as a secular bulwark of stability against radical Islam, stamping out insurgent groups at home.

Eventually the man who had dominated the country for all of its post-Soviet history was then interred next to his mother and brothers in the Shaki Zinda cemetery.



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