Uzbekistan announces state of emergency in protest-hit region

TASHKENT: Uzbekistan announced a month-long state of emergency in an autonomous republic where rare protests forced President Shavkat Mirziyoyev into a climbdown on constitutional reforms.

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s press secretary Sherzod Asadov wrote on Telegram that the state of emergency in the Republic of Karakalpakstan would run from just after midnight on Sunday to August 2.

The measure was being taken to “ensure the safety of citizens, protect their rights and freedoms (and) restore law and order” in the territory, the statement added.

Uzbekistan’s president had arrived in Karakalpakstan Saturday and promised that proposed constitutional amendments that would have weakened the territory’s status would be scrapped.

Authorities said earlier on Saturday that they had arrested “organisers of mass riots” who wanted to seize administrative buildings in the administrative capital Nukus, which witnessed rare protests over constitutional reform proposals.

Friday’s demonstration brought thousands onto the streets of the regional capital after draft amendments to the Uzbek constitution were published, which are expected to go to referendum in the coming months.

Although the tightly controlled government has made no mention of casualties, Telegram accounts have circulated footage that suggests fatalities occurred during the police crackdown.

Internet access has been restricted in the territory during the last week and at least one private media outlet deleted an article about the changes to Karakalpakstan’s status shortly after publishing it.

Spontaneous demonstrations are illegal in the authoritarian ex-Soviet republic and police said Friday that “order had been restored” in the area taken over by the protest. Nevertheless, the demonstration marked arguably the biggest challenge yet to the rule of authoritarian President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

The Uzbek leader styles himself as a reformer but has seen the economic opening of his reign undermined by successive global crises — the coronavirus pandemic and key trade partner Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.