Speculation swirls that the man who ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist for 25 years may be dead

For The Los Angeles Times

Istanbul — Only one man has ruled the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Islam Karimov was the Uzbek leader even before independence, and he has held on to power for more than a quarter of a century with all the tools at a despot’s disposal, his many critics say.

But Karimov’s grip on his country appears to be at an end, with persistent reports in recent days that he is either dead or dying. If those prove to be true, Uzbekistan will be facing a decision that none of its citizens has really made: Who will be its new leader, and what will that mean for a long-repressive society?

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