SAMARKAND (Uzbekistan) • Uzbe- kistan bade farewell to President Islam Karimov at a high-security funeral yesterday, after his death plunged the country into the greatest period of uncertainty in its post-Soviet history, with no clear successor to the iron-fisted ruler.
Mr Karimov, 78, was pronounced dead late on Friday after he suffered a stroke the weekend before and fell into a coma, the authorities said, following days of speculation that officials were delaying making his death public.
The Islamic funeral for the leader, who dominated the former Soviet nation for some 27 years, was held in his home city of Samarkand, south-western Uzbekistan, yesterday and the country began three days of mourning.
Despite his brutal rule, which earned him a reputation as one of the region's most savage despots who ruthlessly stamped out opposition, people in Mr Karimov's hometown mourned his death and some youths wore black clothes.
"When we found out about his death, my family were all crying, we couldn't believe it," said a 58-year- old local man,who refused to give his name. "It is a great loss. He made our country free and developed."
State television in the tightly- controlled nation reported that the coffin arrived by plane in Samarkand, accompanied by Mr Karimov's widow Tatiana and younger daughter Lola. His older daughter Gulnara was not present, having been put under house arrest in 2014 after a family power struggle erupted publicly.
Mr Karimov's coffin was displayed in a city square for people to pay their last respects before he was buried in a nearby cemetery.
Crowds of people had earlier lined the road to watch and throw flowers at the cortege as it drove through the capital Tashkent.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev flew in for the funeral, along with leaders from former Soviet republics, including Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, and the prime ministers of Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Loyalist Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev was head of the organising committee for the funeral, in a sign that he could be the front runner to take over long term from Mr Karimov. Under Uzbek law, Senate head Nigmatilla Yuldashev has now become Acting President until early elections are held.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS