Row as Uzbekistan art museum director sacked
A row has erupted after the director of a renowned museum of Russian avant-garde art in Uzbekistan was abruptly sacked.
The local government dismissed Marinika Babanazarova from the Savitsky museum on Monday, without specifying a reason.
However, Ms Babanazarova says the decision is linked to accusations that she stole original paintings and replaced them with fakes.
She described the accusations as "absurd" and with "no grounds".
The Ministry of Culture and Sports of Karakalpakstan, where the museum is located, was not available for comment.
Staff members of the museum have issued a statement to protest against the government's decision, a move that is rare for Uzbekistan where no dissent is tolerated.
The statement reads that the staff members have no doubts about the director's honesty and that the entire collection is "safe and sound".
In an interview with the BBC, Ms Babanazarova, who has been heading the museum since 1984, said that the decision to fire her was a "complete surprise".
She said the accusations that she had sold originals and replaced them with fakes were "an attempt to discredit the museum's leadership. Somebody just wants to remove me."
The Savitsky museum, which is also known as the Karakalpak State Art Museum, has about 90,000 artworks, including the second largest collection of Russian avant-garde art in the world. The largest collection is in the Russian State Art Museum in St Petersburg.
For art lovers, the Savitsky museum's remote location in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic of Uzbekistan, makes it only more attractive.
Its paintings and its history have captivated visitors. At a time when "social realism" depicting happy faces of workers was the only style allowed, the museum's founder Igor Savitsky collected Central Asian and Russian art that challenged the Soviet propaganda.