President of Uzbekistan

Born: September 1, 1991;

Died: September 2, 2016

ISLAM Karimov, who has died aged 78, was the ruthless president of Uzbekistan who, in the 25 years since its independence from the Soviet Union, had crushed all opposition in the Central Asian country.

One of the world's most authoritarian rulers, Karimov cultivated no apparent successor, and his death raises 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 neighbouring Afghanistan, the West sometimes turned a blind eye to his worst abuses.

Karimov cracked down on any form of Islam that was not patently subservient to him. His leadership style was epitomized by propaganda posters often displayed in Uzbekistan that depicted him alongside Tamerlane, a 14th-century emperor who conquered a vast region of West, South and Central Asia.

He was known to shout and swear at officials during meetings and it was widely rumoured that in bursts of anger he would beat officials and throw ashtrays at them.

Karimov was suspicious of the West and infuriated by its criticism of his human rights record, but he also dreaded Islamic militancy, fearing it could grow into a strong opposition. He unleashed a harsh campaign against Muslims starting in 1997, intensifying in 1999 after eight car bombs exploded near key government buildings in Tashkent. The explosions killed 16 people and wounded more than 100.

"I am ready to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, for the sake of peace and tranquility in the country," Karimov said afterwards. "If a child of mine chose such a path, I myself would rip off his head."

Following 9/11, the West overlooked Karimov's harsh policies and cut a deal with him in 2001 to use Uzbekistan's Karshi-Khanabad air base for combat missions in Afghanistan.

Islam Abduganiyevich Karimov was born in 1938, and studied economics and engineering in what was then a Soviet republic, rising through the Communist Party bureaucracy.

In 1989, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev made him Uzbekistan's Communist Party chief in the wake of a huge corruption scandal that involved top Uzbek officials. At the time, Karimov was seen as a hard-working and uncorrupt Communist.

On March 24, 1990, the local parliament elected him president of the Uzbek Socialist Republic, and in December 1991, just days after the Soviet Union ceased to exist, Karimov won the presidency in a popular vote.

Shaken by a series of ethnic and religious riots in the turbulent years surrounding the Soviet collapse, Karimov was obsessed with stability and security. He said Uzbekistan would follow its own path of reform and would build democracy and a market economy without the turmoil and crises of most other former Soviet nations.

After his 1991 election, the fledgling democratic opposition was banned and forced into exile. The media were muzzled by censorship. Law enforcement and security services grew increasingly powerful and abusive, and the use of torture in prisons was labelled systematic by international observers.

Karimov was also a distant leader. His annual New Year's address to the nation was always read by a TV anchor. His wife rarely appeared in public. But the public was constantly reminded of his leadership by banners with quotes from his speeches posted on buildings and billboards.

All of his election victories were landslides, but none were recognized as free or fair by international observers. His only challenger in 2000, Abdulkhafiz Dzhalolov, said he himself voted for Karimov.

Karimov is survived by his wife and two daughters.