Uzbek PM leads national celebration; president still ill

MOSCOW (AP) " Uzbekistan's prime minister is leading the nation's Independence Day celebration in the capital of Tashkent amid reports of President Islam Karimov's illness.

The government announced Sunday that the 78-year-old Karimov had been hospitalized, and his daughter issued a statement Monday saying he had suffered a brain hemorrhage.

Karimov has run an authoritarian regime in this Central Asian nation since 1989, harshly repressing any opposition and cultivating no apparent successor. On Tuesday, unconfirmed reports claimed that Karimov had already died.

Russian news agencies on Wednesday said the Independence Day celebrations in Tashkent were led by Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyayev, who has been rumored as a possible successor.

The uncertainty over Karimov's health raises concerns that Uzbekistan could face prolonged in-fighting among clans over leadership claims, something Islamic radicals could exploit.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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