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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 December 2007, 13:28 GMT
Profile: Islam Karimov
Poster of President Karimov
Karimov has been in power since before Uzbekistan's independence
Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov is one of Central Asia's most autocratic leaders, running a repressive regime which retains many aspects of its Soviet past.

He does not tolerate dissent, and has banned many opposition groups, particularly Islamic organisations.

Critics also accuse him of sanctioning human rights abuses.

In 2005 a crackdown on protest in the eastern city of Andijan resulted in the deaths of several hundred people.

But while Mr Karimov has many enemies, he also has some influential friends.

He is an ally of Washington in the US-led war against terrorism, as well as enjoying the backing of the Russian government.

Mr Karimov has already had two terms in office - the maximum allowed under the Uzbek constitution.

But in December 2007 he won a third term, against four largely unknown opponents who did not explicitly ask the electorate to vote for them.

Mr Karimov barely campaigned but said that the Uzbek people "know what they are voting for: for the country's future, for peace and development of the country, and for prosperity."

Disputed polls

Born in Samarkand in 1938, Islam Karimov was raised in a Soviet orphanage before studying engineering and economics at university.

He initially worked as an aircraft engineer and then as an economic planner.

He became the Communist Party's First Secretary in Uzbekistan in 1989, and was then elected president of independent Uzbekistan in December 1991, in what Human Rights Watch termed a "seriously marred" poll.

He extended his term further by a referendum in 1995.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov
Born in 1938
Married to Tatiana, with whom he has two daughters
Came to power as head of Communist Party in 1989
Became president of independent Uzbekistan in 1991
Re-elected again in 2000, in polls international observers said were unfair
Election held in December 2007 against four largely token opponents
Runs a repressive regime, banning most opposition

He was re-elected in January 2000, and again the international community raised serious concerns about the poll's fairness.

The OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) refused to send observers after deciding that there was no possibility of a fair contest. US officials who did go said the poll was "neither free nor fair and offered Uzbekistan's voters no true choice".

The situation was no better in parliamentary elections in December 2004, in which Mr Karimov banned opposition parties from taking part.

Islamic threat

Although he has been in power for more than 15 years, he remains intent on stifling any political opposition.

In 2006, Sanjar Umarov, head of the Sunshine Uzbekistan opposition movement, was jailed for 11 years - later reduced to eight - for economic crimes.

Human rights activists are also known to have been jailed.

Mr Karimov has been keen to track down those he views as Muslim extremists, intent on taking over the country.

Militants from several Islamic groups have been active in Uzbekistan.

The Islamic Movement of Turkestan (IMT) - said to have links to al-Qaeda - was blamed for a bomb blast in Tashkent in 1999 which killed more than a dozen people.

Mr Karimov also accused the IMT and another group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, of involvement in bomb attacks in the summer of 2004.

Both groups have the stated aim of establishing an Islamic state in Central Asia, though Hizb ut-Tahrir says it wants to do so using peaceful means.

Whatever the real extent of the Islamic threat, Mr Karimov's critics agree that he has used it to crack down on any form of opposition - militant or otherwise.

In May 2005, Mr Karimov's administration was heavily criticised by the international community for a bloody crackdown on protesters in the city of Andijan in May 2005.

Mr Karimov blamed the violence on Islamic extremists, saying their aims were "hatred and aversion to the secular path of development".

Human rights groups estimate that thousands of ordinary Muslims are in jail, accused of plotting against the government.

The state also maintains tight control of the media, and criticism of the president and his policies is not allowed.

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