Uzbek President Islam Karimov, one of Asia’s most authoritarian leaders, has died, Turkey says – despite no official Uzbek confirmation.
Mr Karimov, 78 and in power since 1989, was taken to hospital last week after a brain haemorrhage but the government has only said he is critically ill.
On Friday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told a televised meeting Mr Karimov had died.
Uzbek state TV channels have dropped light entertainment programmes.
Mr Karimov has no clear successor. There is no legal political opposition and the media are tightly controlled by the state.
A UN report has described the use of torture as “systematic”. Mr Karimov often justified his strong-arm tactics by highlighting the danger from Islamist militancy in the mainly Muslim country, which borders Afghanistan.
“Uzbek President Islam Karimov has passed away,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in a cabinet meeting broadcast live.
“May God’s mercy be upon him, as the Turkish Republic we are sharing the pain and sorrow of Uzbek people.”
Long before Mr Yildirim’s statement, rumours were circulating that Mr Karimov had already died. He had not appeared in public since 17 August.
Earlier on Friday, Reuters news agency said three unnamed diplomatic sources had confirmed his death.
A Russian-based opposition website, Fergana, reported that preparations were under way for his funeral in his home town, Samarkand.
Samarkand’s airport has been closed to scheduled flights on Saturday.
How rumours grew:
- Sunday: President Karimov “receiving inpatient treatment”, Uzbek Cabinet of Ministers announces
- Monday: Daughter Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva writes on Instagram that he suffered a brain haemorrhage
- Wednesday: Government cancels some celebrations for independence day on Thursday
- Thursday: Mr Karimov’s independence day speech read out on state TV by a presenter
- Friday: Government says Mr Karimov’s condition has sharply deteriorated