Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protests

Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protests
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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) – Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev abandoned plans on Saturday to restrict the autonomy of the country’s Karakalpakstan province after a rare public outcry in the northwestern region, his office said.

Friday’s demonstration was called to protest against constitutional reform plans that would have changed the status of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic where the Karakalpak people, a minority ethnic group with their own language, live, Uzbek authorities said.

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

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Mirziyoyev later issued a decree proclaiming 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 that has the right to secede by holding a referendum.

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

But in a swift reaction to the protest, Mirziyoyev said during a visit to Karakalpakstan on Saturday that changes related to his status should be removed from the proposed reform, his office said in a statement.

Karakalpakstan’s government said in a statement on Saturday that police had detained the leaders of Friday’s protest and several other protesters who had put up resistance.

The Karakalpakstan-related changes 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 passes in the planned referendum, it would reset Mirziyoyev’s term count and allow him to run for two more terms.

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

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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