Uzbek president Islam Karimov has died, three diplomatic sources have told Reuters. It follows days of unofficial reports Mr Karimov was near to death or dead after he suffered a stroke last week. His daughter Lola said the 78-year-old had suffered a brain haemorrhage. "Yes, he has died," one of the sources said, referring to the veteran leader who has been in hospital since last Saturday. Earlier on Friday, the government said the ailing president was in a critical condition.
Respected Central Asian news website Fergana.ru posted pictures on Friday from Mr Karimov's hometown of Samarkand, showing what appeared to be undertakers working on a cemetery plot in the city's historic graveyard where his family are buried.
Mr Karimov ran an authoritarian regime since 1989, suppressing opposition and cultivating no apparent successor, leaving a power vacuum. He did not designate a successor and analysts say the transition of power is likely to be decided behind closed doors by a small group of senior officials and family members. If they fail to agree on a compromise, however, open confrontation could destabilise the nation of 32 million that has become a target for Islamist militants.
Under Mr Karimov's regime, Uzbeks have endured appalling human rights abuses. The country saw the largest state-led massacre of protesters since Tiananmen Square in Andijan in 2005, which authorities continue to deny occurred. On Thursday Uzbekistan celebrated its Independence Day, marking 25 years since the country seceded from the Soviet Union, and it was widely assumed that if the government would not break the news until after the festivities.
Human Rights Watch's statement on the country says: “Uzbekistan's human rights record is atrocious. Thousands are imprisoned on politically-motivated charges. "Torture is endemic in the criminal justice system. Authorities continue to crackdown on civil society activists, opposition members, and journalists."