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Uzbek Officials Unable to Keep Up with Workaholic Leader

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At an international conference in Uzbekistan, a government official suddenly collapsed onto the floor.

Other government workers casually carried the man away.

Just a few minutes earlier, the man was seen moving from one side of the room to the other, making sure even the smallest details of the conference were just right.

The Reuters news agency reports that what happened to him was not an unusual event.

The Central Asian nation is slowly opening its economy to other areas. To get the nation ready, some government workers have been working 15-hour days, seven days a week, for more than three years.

Foreign businessmen who go to Uzbekistan face an unusual problem – making sure the officials they are meeting stay awake.

"He fell asleep twice during an afternoon meeting," said one Western businessman after meeting a mid-level Uzbek official.

Uzbekistan, once part of the Soviet Union, is home to 33 million people. Government workers there have a tradition of not leaving the office before their boss does.

But since the death of Uzbek President Islam Karimov in 2016, working all day long, every day has become a way of life.

His replacement, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, says he wants the country to move forward. He has asked government workers to be more responsible to the needs of Uzbekistan's citizens.

"When President (Mirziyoyev) came to power, he declared an emergency for (government workers) and said that officials would not rest until we please the people," said one Uzbek official. He spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity for fear of openly criticizing the system.

The president usually works long hours, so everyone below him feels they must do the same.

Perhaps sensing that his country's workers are tired, the president last month ordered officials to leave their offices at five in the afternoon on Saturdays and spend Sundays with their families.

"But in reality nothing has changed," said the same Uzbek official.

'I still go to work at eight in the morning and come back at midnight,' he said. "Sometimes I don't see my children for several days…they are already asleep when I come home and leave for school earlier in the morning," he added.

I'm Susan Shand.

The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Words in This Story

casual – adj. not formal or rushed

boss n. a supervisor or chief

anonymity - n. without revealing one's name

afternoon – n. the period between morning and sunset

midnight – n. the middle of the night; at the end of one day, and the beginning of the next

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