Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protest


FILE PHOTO: 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

ALMATY (Reuters) - Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on Saturday dropped plans to curtail the autonomy of the country's Karakalpakstan province following a rare public protest in the northwestern region, his office said.

Friday's rally was called 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 tried to storm local government buildings in the region's capital, Nukus, following a march and a rally at the city's central market, local and government officials said.

Mirziyoyev later issued a decree proclaiming 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 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 Karakalpakstan's sovereignty or right for secession.

But in a swift reaction to the protest, Mirziyoyev said on Saturday during a visit to Karakalpakstan that the changes regarding its status must be dropped from the proposed reform, his office said in a statement.

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

The changes concerning 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.

If the reform is endorsed in the planned referendum, it would reset Mirziyoyev's term count and allow him to run for two more terms.

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

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