Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protests

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev attends a news conference with his Kazakh counterpart Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov/ /File Photo

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ALMATY, July 2 (Reuters) – Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on Saturday dropped plans to limit the autonomy of the country’s Karakalpakstan province after a rare public protest in the northwestern region, his office said.

Friday’s rally was called to protest constitutional reform plans that would have changed the status of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic home to the Karakalpak people – an ethnic minority with their own language, Uzbek authorities said.

Police dispersed protesters after some of them tried to storm local government buildings in the region’s capital, Nukus, after a march and rally in the city’s central market, local and government officials said.

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Mirziyoyev later issued a decree declaring a state of emergency in Karakalpakstan for a month “to ensure the safety of citizens, defend their rights and freedoms and restore the rule of law and order” in the region.

Under the current Uzbek constitution, Karakalpakstan is described as a sovereign republic within Uzbekistan, with the right to secede through a referendum.

The new version of the constitution, on which Uzbekistan plans to hold a referendum in the coming months, would no longer mention Karakalpakstan’s sovereignty or right to secession.

But in a quick response to the protest, during a visit to Karakalpakstan on Saturday, Mirziyoyev said the changes regarding his status should be scrapped from the proposed reform, his office said in a statement.

The Karakalpakstan government said in a statement on Saturday that police arrested leaders of Friday’s protests and several other protesters who had resisted.

The changes regarding Karakalpakstan were part of a broader constitutional reform proposed by Mirziyoyev, which also includes strengthening civil rights and extending the presidential term from five to seven years.

If the reform is approved in the planned referendum, it would reset Mirziyoyev’s term count and allow him to run for two more terms.

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Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Edited by Gareth Jones, Helen Popper and Daniel Wallis

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