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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Uncertainty Over Presidency Clouds Uzbek Celebrations

ReutersKarimov waving to a crowd of his supporters at a Saturday event in Tashkent.
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- Uzbeks celebrated 16 years of independence Friday, but a pageant of dancing children and patriotic songs failed to hide growing uncertainty about the country's future.

President Islam Karimov, in power since 1989 when he reported to the Kremlin, commemorated the anniversary with a show in an arena in Tashkent. He made no comment about the end of his latest term in December.

"One thing must be said firmly and with certainty," he told a crowd of about 10,000 cheering guests. "No one can ignore the work we did during these years to build a democratic state and improve the population's living conditions, or that we achieved the authority we deserve on the world arena."

The country has never held a vote judged free and fair by international monitors. In 2002, the parliament extended Karimov's latest and theoretically last term in office until December, but there has been no public mention of an election. "As of right now, we expect some kind of election in December and an announcement in the not too distant future," a Western diplomat in Tashkent said. Other options could be a referendum or similar mechanism to keep Karimov in power.

At Friday's celebrations the performances included a parade by anti-terrorism troops and songs with anti-Western overtones.

One singer, Gulsanam Mamadjonova, performed a song with the lyrics, "Hey you old scoundrel far away, don't teach me how to walk, look at yourself first ... and don't teach me how to live."