Uzbekistan canceled plans to limit Karakalpak autonomy after protests

Uzbekistan canceled plans to limit Karakalpak autonomy after protests
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President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev and his Kazakh counterpart Gasim-Jomart Tokayev attend a press conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov//Photo

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ALMATY, July 2 (Reuters) – Uzbekistani President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on Saturday abandoned plans to limit the autonomy of the country’s Karakalpakstan province after a rare popular protest in the northwestern region.

Uzbek officials said Friday’s rally was called to protest plans for constitutional reforms that would change the status of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic home to the Karakalpak people, an ethnic minority with its own language.

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

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

According to 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, will no longer mention the sovereignty of Karakalpakstan or the right to secession.

However, Mirziyoyev, who reacted quickly to the protest, said during his visit to Karakalpakstan on Saturday that changes related to his status should be excluded from the proposed reform, his office said in a statement.

The government of Karakalpakstan said in a statement early Saturday that police detained the leaders of Friday’s protest and several other protesters who resisted.

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

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

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

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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