Moscow (AFP) - Central Asian Uzbekistan has been plunged into its greatest moment of uncertainty since the end of the Soviet Union by the death of veteran leader Islam Karimov, who dominated the country for 27 years.
It appears that Karimov has left no designated successor to take over from him but analysts agree the next president looks certain to come from the small group of loyalists around the strongman.
Here are some key players to watch now:
- Technocrat prime minister -
Viewed as a tough-guy enforcer, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, 58, appears to be the front-runner to take over long term after he was named head of the committee organising Karimov's funeral.
Technocrat Mirziyoyev, who has served as prime minister since 2003, is reported to have close ties to the former president's family and to key security bosses.
According to rights activists the former governor of Karimov's home region of Samarkand has been in charge of making sure the country fulfils its annual cotton quotas.
That places him at the heart of a industry that is crucial to the Uzbek economy -- it is one of the world's leading cotton producers -- but is accused of forcing over a million citizens, including children, to pick the cotton each year.
- Finance chief -
Deputy premier and finance minister Rustam Azimov, 57, is reportedly viewed by foreign diplomats as more friendly to West, although he is still a key member of Karimov's inner circle.
The former banker -- in place since 2005 -- has been touted as a possible replacement after apparently weathering power struggles.
After years at the heart of the Uzbek elite Azimov is implicated in the vast web of corruption that has purportedly seen those close to Karimov amass vast fortunes.
After news emerged that Karimov was in hospital rumours flew that Azimov had been placed under house arrest, but they were quickly denied and he has been named as part of Karimov's funeral committee.
- Veteran security boss -
The country's powerful security chief Rustam Inoyatov, who has held the post since 1995, has long been seen as the key power behind the throne.
At 72 the former KGB officer may not take the top job himself but the long-time Karimov ally looks likely to have a decisive say in who does.
Inoyatov's reputation is seriously tarnished for his alleged role in the bloody suppression of protests in the eastern city of Andijan in 2005 -- when hundreds of demonstrators are believed to have been gunned down in a massacre.
While officially he controls Uzbekistan's security service he also effectively exerts control over the army and other law enforcement agencies.
- Stand-in leader -
According to Uzbekistan's constitution, senate leader Nigmatulla Yuldashev takes over temporarily until early elections are held within three months.
But commentators describe Yuldashev as a little-known "non-entity" who is unlikely to have the clout to impose himself in the long run.
- The Karimovs -
Still likely to play a big role are Karimov's widow Tatyana and his younger daughter Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva.
Karimova-Tillyaeva, Uzbekistan's ambassador to UNESCO in Paris, took to social media during her father's illness to confirm he had suffered a brain haemorrhage.
She told the BBC in rare comments in 2013 that she did not foresee a career in politics for herself, insisting she was focused on her young family.
She also said that she had not spoken to her older sister Gulnara for 12 years.
Once seen as a potential heir to her father's throne one-time socialite, pop star and business magnate Gulnara, 44, spectacularly fell from grace in a bitter family feud and was placed under house arrest in 2014.
Gulnara, a former ambassador to the UN in Geneva, is being probed in Europe over a $330 million telecoms corruption scandal.