President Islam Karimov, the long-time ruler of of the former Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan was hospitalized Saturday, according to a cryptic statement issued by the Central Asian government.
“In the opinion of the specialists, a full medical examination and subsequent treatment will require a certain amount of time,” the statement read, according to the Regnum news agency, reporting from the capital, Tashkent.
The 78-year-old leader has led Uzbekistan for more than 25 years. A security ring several kilometers (two miles) deep was formed around the government hospital where he was admitted for treatment.
Uzbekistan is a relatively isolated nation of some 32 million people, located on the border of Afghanistan. The nation has been led by Karimov since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The popular leader was re-elected to a five-year term just last year in a landslide victory with more than 90 percent of the vote. Karimov’s eldest daughter Gulnara was allegedly placed under house arrest in 2014, according to the BBC. His second daughter, Lola Karimova Tillyaeva, is the nation’s ambassador to UNESCO.
Uzbekistan holds a special place among Muslim nations with whom Israel enjoys friendly relations, in part due to the historical ties binding Ashkenazi Jews together with those of Bukharan origins. These bonds were further recognized and deepened last year when Karimov spoke at the opening ceremony of a special ethnic music festival in Samarkand, sometimes referred to as the ‘Eurovision of the East.’ He noted the event contributes to consolidating the “ties of friendship among nations, developing the cultural dialogue and preserving the traditions of classical music.” By the time the ninth festival was held, musicians from 53 nations were participating. Israel sent a delegation to the event as well.
Next Thursday, Sept. 1, the country marks its 25th Independence Day, and Karimov was expected to be in attendance as he has been every year. But according to unconfirmed reports quoted by the Ferganan news website and cited by the BBC, the president may have suffered a stroke.
Tashkent has taken a hard line against radical Islamist terror: many of those who belonged to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the 1990s were “encouraged” to leave the country and have since joined the Taliban in Afghanistan. Some have since pledged allegiance to Da’esh (ISIS.) In 2005 they were accused of generating mass protests in the city of Andizhan, where Reuters reported 187 people were killed by police and security force gunfire.Hana Levi Julian