Uzbek first daughter's media empire shut, fuelling rift talk

MOSCOW - The eldest daughter of Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov acknowledged Wednesday for the first time that the authorities had closed television channels she is believed to control, further stoking rumours of a rift in the ruling family.

Gulnara Karimova, a pop star and fashion designer believed to have wielded significant power over the last years, confirmed on Twitter that the Uzbek Agency for Press and Information had shut down the entertainment channels over 12 separate violations.

"However stupid this list may sound, but yes!" Karimova wrote in response to a question from a follower, breaking her silence on why three channels disappeared from the air last week.

One of her followers had asked Karimova to confirm the government had ordered the shutdown of the private television channels.

"The official formulation for their closure is fantastic. Moreover, not one of them is backed up by anything! It's a ludicrous list of the names of laws," Karimova added.

The channels - ForumTV, SofTS and Markaz-TVM - went off the air simultaneously on October 21. A fourth channel believed to be owned by Karimova's business partner also went black.

The entertainment channels were known for repeating Karimova's music videos daily as well as running cartoons and movies. One of is a satellite channel, but the rest are analogue.

Karimova's three FM radio stations later stopped broadcasting on October 24.

One of her Twitter followers, named Karl, listed 12 violations by the television channels, including breaches of legislation on mass media, copyright, licencing and youth policy.

It was not apparent how he obtained this information, which has not been made public, but Karimova confirmed it.

"How did you get the list? I gather it is already public knowledge?!" Karimova replied.

She warned that the channels' former staff could face prosecution.

"These are the exactly ones to be destroyed... the young, talented and the innovative... Moreover, they will fabricate a case..."

Uzbek authorities could not be reached for comment.

The 40-year-old runs jewellery and cosmetics businesses and several charity foundations. Until recently she was Uzbekistan's permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva and its ambassador to Spain.

In the last few weeks, there has been a sudden surge of rumours inside and outside the secretive Central Asian country about Karimova, who until recently was the poster girl for her 75-year-old father's government.

Karimova was often seen as a potential successor to her strongman father, who has ruled the Central Asian state for its entire post-Soviet history and has been slammed by Western activists over alleged rights violations.

Amid an apparent chill towards Karimova, state media this month totally ignored an annual fashion week that she organises, in contrast to previous years.

Canadian singer Lara Fabian also cancelled a concert planned for the fashion week's closure after a French rights group said that she was being used as a "shop-window" for the government in Tashkent.

Foreign and opposition websites reported at the weekend that Uzbek law enforcement bodies might have opened a probe against Gulnara's charity foundations as well.

Opposition websites have suggested that Karimova is being punished for her outspoken remarks on the Internet about her family and the way she runs her charity foundations and businesses.

In indirect criticisms, she has linked her younger sister and mother to an interest in black magic.

Karimova's younger sister, Lola Karimova-Tillayeva, gave an interview to the BBC Uzbek Service last month saying she had not spoken to her sister for 12 years.