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By Ubaydullo Babadzhonov and Shakar Saadi
TASHKENT -- Two high-ranking energy officials were sacked July 13 by order of President Islam Karimov.
Deputy Prime Minister Ergaz Shoismatov and Uzbekneftegaz Chairman Ulugbek Nazarov were fired.
Their replacements are former Uzkhimprom chief Gulomdzhon Ibragimov and former economy minister Shokir Faizullayev, respectively.
The government had no comment on the firings, restricting itself to a brief announcement on the www.gov.uz website.
But observers had opinions.
The firings were linked to Karimov's dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in the oil and gas sector, an Uzbekneftegaz official who lacked authorisation to talk to media said on condition of anonymity.
"Nationwide recently we've seen a severe shortage of diesel fuel and gasoline", the official said. "On top of that, an inspection in June found deficiencies and financial shortfalls in a number of oil refineries. All this couldn't go unnoticed at the top".
"Every state is like a living organism", said Uzbek analyst and rights activist Anatolii Volkov. "Sometimes it gets sick and you have to treat it by cutting out some organs".
These affairs will always go on "behind closed doors" in Uzbekistan, he said. "To talk more concretely, you need open information, but we don't have information. ... We don't have democracy".
Political scientist Iskander Khudoiberganov said the ranks of leadership change regularly in Uzbekistan.
"There's nothing good about it,” he said. “It's obvious that the authorities wanted something, didn't get it, and are looking for the culprit. They name someone to a position, expect an accomplishment from him, and don't get it.
"The system is guilty, not the person", he continued. "This is connected to the Soviet manner of exploiting oil and gas deposits: extracting as much as possible".
More turmoil could be coming in the oil and gas sector, he predicted.
"Firing Shoismatov, who was responsible for the fuel and energy industries, could be connected to dissatisfaction with the performance of Uzbekneftegaz", he said. "Namely, fire the Uzbekneftegaz CEO and his patron in the government".
Inside the company, the sackings have altered the atmosphere, the anonymous Uzbekneftegaz official said.
"They're talking in the company about the possibility of more changes", the source said. "Many fear for their jobs now".