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Mystery deepends over fate of Uzbek president Islam Karimov

Maxim Shemetov, POOL, AFP | Uzbek President Islam Karimov speaks during a press conference with his at the Kremlin in Moscow on April 26, 2016

The Interfax news agency withdrew a report on Friday saying that Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov had died, saying the original report, which cited an official government statement, had been put out due to a "technical error".

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Before Interfax published their newsflash, Reuters reported that 78-year-old Karimov, who has ruled Uzbekistan since 1989, had died after suffering a stroke earlier in the week.

The Uzbek government did not confirm the report.

Earlier on Friday it said the health of Karimov, who has been in hospital since last Saturday, had sharply deteriorated.

"Dear compatriots, it is with a heavy heart that we inform you that the health of our president has sharply deteriorated in the past 24 hours to reach a critical state, according to the doctors," the government said in a statement.

Friday's announcement follows days of unofficial reports that Karimov was close to death or even dead. His daughter Lola said earlier this week the 78-year old had suffered a brain hemorrhage.

Karimov has run an authoritarian regime in the Central Asian nation since 1989, suppressing opposition and cultivating no apparent successor. He hasn't been seen in public since mid-August, and his government last weekend admitted he was ill.

Uzbekistan on Thursday celebrated its Independence Day and it was widely assumed that if the government were to make an announcement on his condition, they would not break the news until after the festivities.

Respected Central Asian news website Fergana.ru on Friday posted pictures from Karimov's hometown of Samarkand, showing what appeared to be undertakers working on a cemetery plot in the city's historic graveyard where Karimov's family is buried.

The uncertainty over Karimov's health has raised concerns that Uzbekistan could face prolonged infighting among clans over leadership claims, something Islamic radicals could exploit.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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