Islam Karimov, who crushed all opposition in the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan as its only president in a quarter-century of independence from the Soviet Union, has died of a stroke at age 78, the Uzbek government announced Friday. Karimov will be buried Saturday in the ancient city of Samarkand, his birthplace. His younger daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, said Monday that he had been hospitalized in the capital of Tashkent after a brain hemorrhage Aug. 27. One of the world's most authoritarian rulers, Karimov cultivated no apparent successor, and his death raised concerns that the predominantly Sunni Muslim country could face prolonged infighting among clans over its leadership
Karimov was known as a tyrant with an explosive temper and a penchant for cruelty. His troops machine-gunned hundreds of unarmed demonstrators to death during a 2005 uprising, he jailed thousands of political opponents, and his henchmen reportedly boiled some dissidents to death. He came under widespread international criticism from human rights groups—but because of Uzbekistan's location as a vital supply route for the war in neighboring Afghanistan, the West sometimes turned a blind eye to his worst abuses. Noting Karimov's death, President Obama said in a statement the US "reaffirms its support for the people of Uzbekistan" as the country "begins a new chapter in its history," the AP reports.