Uzbekistan: Opposition Claims Karimov Heart Attack
One of Uzbekistan’s opposition groups-in-exile has reported that President Islam Karimov has had a heart attack, prompting a denial from officials, while reigniting speculation about the aging leader’s health.The People’s Movement of Uzbekistan (PMU), headed by Muhammad Solih from his base in Norway, reported on March 22 that the 75-year-old president suffered a heart attack on March 19. The report cited the PMU’s “own correspondent” in Tashkent, who was not named.On March 24 the PMU reported confirmation of the news from a second source, a journalist “working for one of the state media outlets, performing his activities directly under the oversight of the National Security Committee and the press service of the president of Uzbekistan.”The report quoted the unnamed journalist as saying that Karimov had a heart attack on the evening of March 19 and is “now seriously ill.”No other sources apart from the PMU have independently confirmed the report of Karimov’s alleged heart attack.A source in the presidential administration denied the news. “The president of Uzbekistan is in excellent form as always and does not have any signs of any indisposition,” the unnamed source told Russian news agency RIA Novosti on March 22. In a separate report the same day, RIA Novosti quoted a source in the presidential administration (it was not clear if it was the same person) as saying the report was “most likely a canard” and pointing out that Karimov had been seen in public on March 19 at celebrations of the Navruz spring equinox holiday.Heavily controlled Uzbek state television’s weekly news roundup programs on the Yoshlar and O’zbekiston channels on March 24 did not mention reports of Karimov’s ill health. Footage of the Navruz celebrations showed him dancing and moving and speaking normally.Rumors that Karimov is sick have been circulating regularly for at least a decade.Solih, who stood against Karimov in the 1991 presidential election and lost, was arrested in Uzbekistan in 1992 on treason charges but released under international pressure and fled the country. He was later accused of plotting bombings that occurred in Tashkent in 1999, and sentenced at a trial in absentia to 15 years in prison. He has political asylum in Norway.