Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak’s autonomy after protest

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev attends a press 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 curtail the autonomy of Karakalpakstan province after a rare public protest in the northwestern region, his office said.

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

Police dispersed the protesters after some of them attempted to storm local government buildings in the region’s capital, Nukus, following a march and demonstration 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 security of the citizens, defend their rights and freedoms and restore the rule of law 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 – which Uzbekistan plans to hold a referendum on in the coming months – would no longer state the sovereignty or right to secede from Karakalpakstan.

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

The government of Karakalpakstan said in a statement earlier on Saturday that police had detained the leaders of Friday’s protest, as well as several other protesters who had resisted.

The changes related to 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, Mirziyoyev’s terms of office would be reinstated and allow him to run for two more terms.

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

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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