By Olzhas Auyezov
ALMATY (Reuters) – Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s daughter said on Wednesday that her father, who has run the Central Asian state with authoritarian style for 27 years, was recovering from a brain haemorrhage, countering speculation that he had died.
In an Instagram message, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva – the leader’s younger daughter who gave details of her father’s illness earlier this week – thanked well-wishers for their support, saying this was helping her father’s recovery.
The Tashkent government has made no statement since saying on Sunday that the 78-year-old Karimov, who has no obvious successor, was in hospital.
His daughter, the younger of two, issued her message after reports in some media that he had died.
Karimov took over at the helm of the then ruling communist party in 1989 and hung on to power when Uzbekistan became independent of the Soviet Union in 1991.
He has ruled Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s most populous state with 32 million people, with an iron fist since, showing little tolerance of internal dissent.
He has presented himself as a bulwark of stability in a country situated on the northern borders of Afghanistan which controls vast reserves of gold, oil, gas and cotton and is criss-crossed by ethnic fault lines.
But his frequent warnings that he holds the line against a militant Islamist threat to the region have won quiet approval from Russia and the West, despite Western unease over his tight policies at home.
Though the government had no new statement on his condition on Wednesday, it cancelled an event which used to take place annually at which Karimov met the public to commemorate victims of Soviet-era repressions.
It also cancelled a concert for senior officials and diplomats which used to take place every year on the eve of Independence Day, which Uzbekistan marks on Thursday, Sept. 1, a diplomatic source told Reuters.
Tashkent city authorities said they would press ahead with Thursday festivities for the wider public, although they were putting off evening fireworks because of a football game between Uzbekistan and Syria national teams.
It was unclear whether someone would deliver a commemorative speech later on Wednesday in Karimov’s place – the choice of speaker could identify a likely successor.
Karimov has no sons, who might have been regarded as heirs apparent in the patriarchal culture. His elder daughter, Gulnara, has not appeared in public since several media reported in 2014 that she had been placed under house arrest.
State television ran its regular entertainment programs including feature films and quiz shows and the streets of the capital on Wednesday were peaceful with no signs of increased security presence.
Ordinary Uzbeks mostly wished Karimov a speedy recovery when they spoke to the press.
“We are really worried since we had heard that our president has fallen ill. We wish him long life”, said Gulbadanbegim, a medical college graduate.
“We are celebrating the 25th anniversary of our independence to which his contribution was great. We wish him quick recovery and never to fall ill.”
But privately, some said people were gripped by fear and uncertainty.
“My wife says no one knows what is going on and people do not ask each other (about any news on Karimov),” said a Kazakh man whose Uzbek wife was with her family in Uzbekistan.
“She says she’s afraid to discuss this even with her mom.”.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Additional reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov in Tashkent; Editing by Richard Balmforth)