The land that is now Uzbekistan was once at the heart of the ancient Silk Road trade route connecting China with the Middle East and Rome.
The country spent most of the past 200 years as part of the Russian Empire, and then of the Soviet Union, before emerging as an independent state when Soviet rule ended in 1991.
Under authoritarian President Islam Karimov, who ruled from 1989 until his death in 2016, Uzbekistan was reliant on exports of cotton, gas and gold to maintain its rigid, state-controlled economy. President Karimov's successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has made efforts to break Uzbekistan out of its international isolation and economic stagnation, but has yet to initiate any serious political liberalisation.
President: Shavkat Mirziyoyev
Shavkat Mirziyoyev served President Islam Karimov loyally as prime minister from 2003 to 2016, when he moved smoothly into the presidency via a deal between senior government power-brokers.
He moved swiftly to restore relations with neighbouring countries in Central Asia, as well as Russia, China and the United States, and sought to boost foreign investment in the moribund, state-run economy.
President Mirziyoyev has been more cautious on the political reform front, but had managed to out-manoeuvre and replace all senior Karimov-era officials by early 2018, in particular the powerful security chief Rustam Inoyatov.
Uzbekistan is one of Central Asia's biggest media markets. TV is the most popular medium. The government broadcaster operates the main national networks.
Most media outlets are linked directly or indirectly to the state.
Around 50% of the population is online. The authorities have steadily tightened their grip on the internet, says Reporters Without Borders.
Some key dates in Uzbekistan's history:
1st century BC - Central Asia, including present-day Uzbekistan, forms an important part of the overland trade routes known as the Great Silk Road linking China with the Middle East and imperial Rome.
13th-14th centuries - Central Asia conquered by Genghis Khan and becomes part of Mongol empire.
18th-20th centuries - Russians take over vast areas of Central Asia, and Bolsheviks retain control of the region. 1989 - Islam Karimov becomes leader of Uzbek Communist Party, and remains in power beyond independence in 1991.
2001 - Uzbekistan allows US to use its air bases for action in Afghanistan.
2005 - Troops open fire on demonstrators in city of Andijan, killing hundreds of people. Western condemnation and sanctions prompt government to move towards Russian and Chinese orbits.
2016 - Islam Karimov dies in office. Successor Shavkat Mirziyoyev eases relations with neighbours, and promotes economic liberalisation.