Tashkent: Post-Soviet Uzbekistan`s strongman President Islam Karimov danced off rumours that ill-health might derail his imminent re-election bid Saturday during a state celebration of the Nowruz holiday marking the beginning of spring.
The 77-year-old, who has controlled Uzbekistan for over two decades, has traditionally used the symbolic event held in the capital Tashkent to dispel whispers about his physical frailty, which have grown louder as he has cut down on public appearances over the years.
This Nowruz was no exception as Karimov moved energetically to traditional Uzbek melodies, at one point jogging on the spot as government officials and foreign diplomats also clapped and danced.
Karimov faces no meaningful opposition in a vote scheduled for March 29 that would see him win a five-year term.
Speaking at the celebration Karimov called for stability during "a turbulent and ever-tense time" in the region.
"What do Uzbek people need? We need peace and well being," Karimov told his audience in a speech that was also broadcasted via state television.
Karimov has repeatedly spoken of the threat his country of over 30 million faces from Afghanistan, to its south, where US and NATO forces are increasingly leaving the fight against the Taliban insurgency to the Afghan government.
Uzbekistan is a close partner of both Russia and China, although Tashkent withdrew from a Russia-backed security coalition in 2012 and is reportedly concerned about Moscow`s muscular policies in the Ukraine war.
Like other ex-Soviet states in Central Asia, Uzbekistan announced Nowruz as a state holiday following independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.