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Uzbek President announces ‘fatalities’ in reform unrest

#Uzbek #President #announces #fatalities #reform #unrest

The Uzbek President on Sunday announced the deaths of civilians and law enforcement officials during protests in the country’s autonomous region of Karakalpakstan, which has been gripped by widespread unrest over a proposed constitutional reform.

“Unfortunately, there are casualties among civilians and law enforcement officials,” Shavkat Mirziyoyev said on Sunday during a speech in Karakalpakstan, broadcast by his press service on Telegram.

He did not give an exact number or details of the cause of death.

Uzbekistan on Saturday imposed a month-long state of emergency in the impoverished western region, where a large protest erupted on Friday against proposed constitutional changes that would have weakened the region’s status.

Mirziyoyev has since pledged to withdraw the region’s amendments from the draft constitution, which is expected to go to a referendum in the coming months.

The clashes represent the greatest challenge yet to the 64-year-old’s rule since he rose to power from the post of prime minister in 2016 when longtime mentor Islam Karimov died.

On Sunday, Mirziyoyev made his second visit to Karakalpakstan in two days and, in an address to local lawmakers, accused the protest organizers of “hiding behind false slogans” and trying to “seize buildings from local government agencies”.

“Several groups attempted to seize the buildings of the Nukus City Department of Internal Affairs and the National Guard Department for weapons,” he claimed.

– “Shameless Provocations” –

“Using their superior numbers, these men attacked police officers, severely beating them and causing serious injuries,” he added.

Videos that appear to show the dead and injured in the clashes have raised concerns that security forces’ crackdowns have caused a high death toll.

Uzbek lawmaker Bobur Bekmurodov complained of “shameless provocations” when netizens tweeted footage of men in uniform walking down a street covered in red liquid.

“Dear friends, please do not become part of this shameless provocation. Check the information. It’s just red water. Please share the truth!” he tweeted.

Police said Saturday they had arrested “riot organizers” but didn’t provide numbers.

Since the release of the draft amendments last week, Karakalpakstan has experienced significant internet outages, stripping the region of its nominal “sovereign” status and its right to secede from Uzbekistan by referendum.

Mirziyoyev’s press service said on Saturday evening that he promised that articles of the constitution affecting the region would remain unchanged “on the basis … of the opinions of the residents of Karakalpakstan” in his meetings with local authorities.

Residents in the area told AFP they have received text message notifications that the changes have been lifted.

The autonomous republic’s constitutional right to secede from Uzbekistan is the legacy of an agreement Karakalpakstan made with the central government in Tashkent after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The authoritarian government never seemed willing to consider that prospect.

One change, to remain in the draft document, will allow presidents to run for seven-year terms, directly benefiting Mirziyoyev, who crushed token opponents to secure a second five-year term in October.

Karakalpakstan takes its name from the Karakalpak people. The minority is well represented in cities like Nukus, where the protest took place, but now represents a minority of two million people in the western region.

The scale of Friday’s protests was unprecedented for the region and possibly Uzbekistan, where riots in the city of Andijan in 2005 killed over 170 people, according to an official figure then considered low.

Two Nukus eyewitnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed to AFP that a smaller group of protesters had gathered near a city market on Saturday night before police dispersed the demonstration with tear gas and smoke grenades.

Eyewitnesses said Nukus was quiet on Sunday morning, with police and military patrolling the streets.

Karakalpakstan is closely linked to the drying up of the Aral Sea – one of the largest man-made environmental disasters in the world.

Once the world’s fourth-largest lake, the Aral shrank massively due to Soviet agricultural policies, which ensured that rivers that fed into it were diverted, mainly to increase cotton production.

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#Uzbek #President #announces #fatalities #reform #unrest

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