Uzbek authorities on Saturday announced a month-long state of emergency in the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan after rare anti-government protests forced President Zafkat Mirziyoyev to cancel a planned constitutional overhaul.
In a press release released, the press office of the Uzbek presidency explained that the state of emergency is intended to “guarantee the safety of citizens” and “the return of the rule of law” in this impoverished region (officially, an autonomous “democracy”). of northwestern Uzbekistan.
The measure came into effect at midnight (local time) and will last until August 2, the presidency said.
A few hours earlier, Uzbek President Zafkat Mirziyoyev arrived on the scene and announced the abandonment of a plan to revise the Constitution that would reduce Karakalpakstan’s autonomy.
Thousands of people demonstrated yesterday Friday against the review in the streets of Nukus, the capital of this region, which is mostly covered by desert.
The mass mobilization marks the most serious challenge to date to the authority of President Mirziyoyev, in power since 2016.
The revision mainly stipulated that the republic of 2 million people would lose its “sovereign” status and the right to hold a referendum on self-determination.
Spontaneous protests are very rare – and also illegal – in Uzbekistan, an authoritarian country that is the most populous of the former Soviet republics in central Asia, with about 35 million people.
Yesterday Saturday the Uzbek authorities announced that they made a series of arrests, the day after the anti-government mass mobilization.
“A group consisting of rioters and people who resisted law enforcement forces have been arrested,” the parliament, government and police in the republic of Karakalpakstan said in a statement.
According to the text, the suspects were trying to occupy public buildings in the demonstration in the capital Nukus.
Yesterday Saturday, the press office of the presidency announced that Mr. Mirziyoyev had a meeting with the deputies of Karakalpakstan and that all the articles of the Constitution concerning this autonomous republic will remain as they are, “on the basis (…) of the views expressed expressed by the people of Karakalpakstan”.
Zafkat Mirziyoyev, who took power in 2016 – after the death of his predecessor, the ruthless Islam Karimov – was credited with sweeping economic and social reforms. However, after being re-elected last year, he is accused of taking a new authoritarian turn.
With the planned revision of the Constitution, the duration of the presidential term would increase from five to seven years, which also concerned the current head of state.
The country’s economic openness has curbed a succession of crises, from the novel coronavirus pandemic to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, a key partner of Uzbekistan.
Karakalpakstan is associated with the drying up of the Aral Sea, one of the world’s worst man-made environmental disasters.