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Uzbekistan sells hotel stake to Singapore-based firm

Tashkent

UZBEKISTAN has sold a controlling stake in its most famous hotel to a firm based in Singapore as Tashkent tries to breathe new life into the Soviet-era Brutalist landmark.

The sale of Hotel Uzbekistan, which once featured regularly on postcards of the capital, comes as the central Asian country seeks to draw foreign investment and tourists.

Singapore-based Bashan Investment Group has acquired 80 per cent of the huge hotel for US$23.2 million in a competitive auction, Uzbekistan's state assets management agency said. The state will retain a minority stake.

The company plans to invest nearly US$40 million in modernising the 17-floor hotel over the next year and a half, it said. Terms of the tender require that the building's facade remain unchanged for the next 10 years, however.

Many ordinary Uzbeks welcomed the sale. "They did the right thing," said Raup Rakhimov, a 42-year-old taxi driver parked close to the hotel. "Hotel Uzbekistan has become outdated. Foreigners don't go there anymore. They choose new hotels and guesthouses."

Askar Nazarov, a Tashkent resident passing by the hotel, said he hoped the investor would keep both the building and the style of its rooms largely unchanged as a "souvenir of Soviet times".

"Local people stay in it too and they remember its Soviet-era life," he said, adding that he was fond of the light shows held there at night.

Like the Intourist Hotel in Moscow that was five stories higher, Hotel Uzbekistan was built in the 1970s, less than a decade after Tashkent suffered a major earthquake.

Authorities ordered it built partly to cater to a growing number of people invited to the Festival of African and Asian Cinema.

Officials in Uzbekistan and neighbouring Kazakhstan, where Hotel Kazakhstan was built in seismically-active Almaty, insisted the structures could withstand strong tremors.

Moscow's Intourist hotel, which resembled Hotel Uzbekistan in architectural style and was located a short walk from the Kremlin, was demolished in 2002.

Uzbekistan has identified privatisation as one of the reforms to the state-controlled economy pursued under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

In May, Mr Mirziyoyev said the government was also considering whether to let a foreign group manage the state-owned airline and an affiliated company that runs Uzbek airports. AFP

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