Uzbekistan cancels plans to limit Karakalpak 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 // Photo archive

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ALMATY (Reuters) – Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s office said on Saturday it had canceled plans to scale back the autonomy of the country’s Karakalpakstan province after a rare public protest in the northwest region.

Uzbek authorities said Friday’s rally was to protest plans for constitutional reform that would change the status of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic inhabited by the Karakalpaks, an ethnic minority with their own language.

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

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Mirziyoyev later issued a decree declaring a state of emergency in Karakalpakstan for a month “in order to ensure the security 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 and 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 – no longer mentions Karakalpakstan’s sovereignty or its right to secede.

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

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The Karakalpakstan government said in a statement earlier on Saturday that police had arrested Friday’s protest leaders and several other protesters who offered resistance.

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 to seven years from five years.

If the reform is endorsed in the planned referendum, it will reset Mirziyoyev’s number of terms and allow him to run for two more terms.

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Reporting: Olgas Oyzov. Editing by Gareth Jones, Helen Popper and Daniel Wallis

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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