Uzbek leader seeks overhaul of powerful security service

Tashkent (AFP) –


Uzbekistan's President Shavkat Mirziyoyev called on Friday for a law to overhaul the country's feared National Security Service, in a move pointing to a simmering power struggle in the Central Asian country.

The security service, which inherited the mantle of the KGB after Uzbekistan's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, is headed by Rustam Inoyatov, 73, who has been in place since 1995.

Inoyatov was widely viewed as one of the most powerful people in the country of more than 32 million at the time of long-reigning president Islam Karimov's death last year.

But Mirziyoyev, 60, who served as Karimov's prime minister for 13 years, emerged as Uzbekistan's new leader quickly after Karimov died and began rolling back some of his predecessor's most excessive authoritarian policies.

In a lengthy speech to lawmakers, diplomats and journalists on Friday, Mirziyoyev said the security service was still working according to a government mandate passed 26 years ago.

"We need to reform this structure. The (National Security Service) should be on guard for our external and internal security," Mirziyoyev said.

Earlier this year Mirziyoyev appointed allies to head the interior and defence ministries in moves seen as trimming the influence of the security apparatus led by Inoyatov.

The interior ministry's mandate was also expanded, taking on a unit formerly part of the security agency.

Mirziyoyev, whose four-hour speech was vigorously applauded by state officials, won an election in which he faced no meaningful competition in December last year.

But he has separated himself from Karimov's heavy-handed reign of nearly three decades by releasing nearly a dozen political prisoners and initiating a series of economic reforms.

The new leader also broke with the precedent set by Karimov in a speech to the UN General Assembly in September, which acknowledged the problem of forced labour in the country's lucrative cotton harvest.

Uzbekistan, a landlocked country of about 32 million people, is rich in a number of commodities, including gas and gold.