May 9, 2017 / 6:55 PM / 3 months ago

In nod to Russia, new Uzbek leader revives V-day celebrations

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev delivers a speech during the Victory Day celebrations, marking the World War II anniversary, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, May 9, 2017.Muhammadsharif Mamatkulov

TASHKENT (Reuters) - Uzbekistan resurrected its V-day celebrations on Tuesday in a move signaling warmer ties with Russia, as the Central Asian nation marked the anniversary of the Allied victory for the first time since the death of veteran leader Islam Karimov.

Russia attaches great significance to the May 9 holiday, marking it with an annual parade, but under the late Karimov, who had distanced Tashkent from its former Soviet overlord, celebrations in Uzbekistan were minimal.

Karimov died last September after running Central Asia's most populous nation for 27 years and has been succeeded by his prime minister, Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

In a break with tradition established by Karimov, who usually just laid flowers at a World War Two monument, Mirziyoyev attended a large musical and theatrical performance in Tashkent on the day of remembrance and honor in Uzbekistan.

The performances featured war-time armored vehicles, actors wearing Soviet military uniform, and patriotic songs of the World War Two era - all unimaginable under Karimov who, despite his own Communist past, had criticized the Soviet Union's attitude toward Uzbekistan as colonial.

Mirziyoyev's symbolic gesture is certain to be noticed by Moscow, which regards Central Asia as a strategically important region and competes for influence there with China and the West.

Uzbekistan, a mostly Muslim nation of 32 million, has so far avoided Moscow-led military and economic alliances joined by some of the former Soviet republics.

Although Mirziyoyev has promised to boost relations with Uzbekistan's main partners, he has avoided singling out Russia - or any other superpower - as the key one.

He has also made his first foreign visits to neighboring Central Asian nations rather than any of the bigger nations. Mirziyoyev then visited Russia, where millions of Uzbek migrant laborers live, last month.

Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alison Williams

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