This file photo taken on April 26, 2016 shows Uzbek President Islam Karimov speaking during a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart following their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow. / AFP / POOL / MAXIM SHEMETOV
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Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who has dominated the ex-Soviet nation for 25 years, was in critical condition after his health worsened "sharply" following a stroke, a statement said Friday.Long lambasted by rights groups for brutally crushing dissent, Karimov has ruled landlocked Uzbekistan with an iron fist since before it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 .The strongman, however, has portrayed himself as a bulwark against radical Islam on the borders of Afghanistan, stamping out fundamentalist groups at home.Despite persistent claims over his health in recent years, Karimov has not left any clear successor -- with some now speculating that senior regime insiders have started jostling to take his place.Born on Jan. 30, 1938 Karimov was raised in an orphanage in the ancient city of Samarkand, before studying mechanical engineering and economics and rising up Communist Party ranks to become head of Soviet Uzbekistan in 1989 .
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