December 14, 2016 / 3:57 PM / 7 months ago

Uzbekistan's new leader promises major government reshuffle

3 Min Read

Uzbekistan's Prime Minister and interim President Shavkat Mirziyoyev casts his ballot at a polling station during a presidential election in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, December 4, 2016.Anvar Ilyasov/Pool

TASHKENT/ALMATY (Reuters) - Uzbekistan's new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, took the oath of office on Wednesday pledging to protect the legacy of his veteran predecessor Islam Karimov but also signalled plans for a big shake-up of the government.

Karimov, who died of a stroke in September, ruled the Central Asian nation of 32 million people for 27 years with a firm hand, brooking no dissent, keeping tight state control of the economy and steering an isolationist foreign policy.

Mirziyoyev, who served as Karimov's prime minister for 13 years and then from September as interim president, won a Soviet-style 89 percent of the vote in the Dec. 4 election.

"I will continue the work of my dear teacher, the great statesman Islam Karimov," Mirziyoyev said after an inauguration ceremony in parliament in which he placed his hand on the Koran and on the constitution.

"There will be many changes in the cabinet," he added. "Many ministers will also be replaced. I am ... not a new person here. I know every minister's capacity and what he is doing."

Mirziyoyev, 60, gave no details, though parliament also confirmed on Wednesday his long-time deputy, Abdulla Aripov, as the new prime minister.

The choice of Aripov, who was sacked by Karimov in 2012 and returned to the cabinet in September, has raised eyebrows as many Uzbekistan-watchers had expected another, more influential deputy prime minister, Rustam Azimov, to get the job.

Diplomatic and business sources have told Reuters that in order to secure the backing of Uzbekistan's powerful clans, Mirziyoyev had agreed to share power with Azimov and security boss Rustam Inoyatov who had both been very close to Karimov.

"It seems that the president had decided to build a clear chain of command, relying on people who have no strong (political) ambitions," said Petr Bologov, a Russian political commentator on Uzbekistan.

It is unclear whether Mirziyoyev and Aripov will keep Azimov as deputy premier in charge of finance and macroeconomics. In September, however, Mirziyoyev widened Azimov's responsibilities to include education and science.

"As long as he has capital, including human capital, behind him (Azimov) is in the game, though in Uzbekistan one can be quickly stripped of capital if there is a will to do so," said Bologov.

Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov in Tashkent and Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty; Editing by Gareth Jones

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