Almaty (Kazakhstan) (AFP) - Uzbekistan's parliament approved Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev as acting president on Thursday, a government website reported, in the clearest sign yet he could take over long term after the death of veteran strongman Islam Karimov.
Mirziyoyev, 58, was given the post after being backed by Senate leader Nigmatilla Yuldashev, who under the constitution should have become temporary president ahead of elections.
Parliament also ordered a presidential vote to take place within three months with many analysts expecting Mirziyoyev to win.
Mirziyoyev has been widely tipped by analysts to succeed autocrat Karimov.
The 78-year-old president was buried on Saturday in his native Samarkand city, of which Mirziyoyev was a former governor.
Mirziyoyev has had meetings with both Russian President Vladimir Putin who laid flowers at Karimov's grave on Tuesday, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who attended the funeral.
Putin praised Karimov for maintaining "stability" over the course of his 27-year rule and said Russia would "do everything to support the Uzbek people and the Uzbek leadership".
"You can count on us fully, as you can on your most faithful friends," Putin told Mirziyoyev when the two met on Tuesday.
Uzbekistan, a Central Asian country of over 30 million people, has one of the world's poorest records on human rights but has parlayed its strategic location on the border with Afghanistan into geopolitical influence.
The United States once maintained a military base there used for Afghanistan operations, but the government cancelled the lease after Washington called for an independent investigation into a brutal crackdown in 2005.
The country is rich in cotton, gold, gas and other commodities, but close to two million Uzbeks work abroad in Russia, rather than at home, where unofficially unemployment is high.
It remains an extremely tightly controlled state -- the largest in the Central Asian region -- so few can be sure what a new leader will mean for the country.
But analysts are certain that key elements of the authoritarian system crafted by Karimov will survive his death.
"[Mirziyoyev] was known as a guy who would not ask questions but just get things done," Bakhtiyor Nishanov, deputy director of Eurasia for the International Republican Institute, a Washington DC-based pro-democracy non-profit told AFP by telephone.
One other contender also viewed as potential successor to Karimov is deputy prime minister Rustam Azimov, who appeared alongside Mirziyoyev at the funeral despite some media reporting his arrest.
Karimov's elder daughter Gulnara Karimova, 44, was also once considered a potential successor, but has since fallen foul of the elite and her own family and is believed to be under house arrest.