MOSCOW — Uzbekistan’s authoritarian president, Islam Karimov, has suffered a brain hemorrhage, his daughter said Monday as security forces surrounded the hospital caring for him.
The statement posted on Instagram by his daughter, Lola Karimova, has sparked debate over how a power transition might work in a country that Karimov has ruled as his personal fiefdom for 27 years.
The 78-year-old Karimov has ruled Uzbekistan since Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev made him the republic’s Communist Party chief in 1989. In December 1991, just days after the Soviet Union ceased to exist, Karimov was elected president of the newly independent state.
Since then, Karimov has brooked no dissent and removed all of his political opponents, many of whom were imprisoned, forced into exile or disappeared.
Karimov’s daughter said he suffered a brain hemorrhage Saturday and was in stable condition in intensive care. She said it was too early to make forecasts on his recovery.
Uzbekistan’s government had issued an unusual statement Sunday announcing Karimov’s hospitalization but giving no details of the nature of his illness.
In the capital, Tashkent, police and soldiers formed a cordon around the government hospital treating Karimov in an apparent reflection of unease over potential instability.
Exiled Uzbek political scientist Kamoliddin Rabbimov said Uzbek officials would “probably flock to Karimov’s bedside. They want to know what happens to Karimov next.”
“If it turns out that he will stay this way for long, they will probably cautiously launch the process of succession and call an election,” Rabbimov told The Associated Press by telephone from Paris.
Under Uzbekistan’s constitution, the chairman of the Uzbek Senate takes over if the head of state dies.
Rabbimov said Karimov over the years has permitted only “the weakest of the politicians” to lead the Senate to ensure that Karimov retained overall control.
The analyst said he considers Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov to be the most likely successors, but Karimov has been reluctant to favor either of them publicly.