Uzbekistan protesters tried to seize buildings, arrested: Govt | World News

Uzbek authorities said on Saturday they had arrested “organizers of mass riots” who sought to seize administrative buildings in the autonomous republic, which has witnessed rare protests against constitutional reform proposals.

Friday’s demonstration in the republic of Karakalpakstan brought thousands to the streets of the regional capital and followed the announcement of draft amendments to the Uzbek constitution that would weaken the status of the republic and go to a referendum in the coming months.

Spontaneous demonstrations are illegal in the authoritarian former Soviet republic and police said on Friday that “order has been restored” in the area occupied by the demonstration.

The tightly controlled government has made no mention of casualties.

The proposed constitutional changes would strip the Republic of Karakalpakstan of its nominal “sovereign” status and its constitutional right to secede from Uzbekistan through a referendum.

The commission is monitoring the situation in the republic and will take into account opinions expressed online in the republic, member of the constitutional commission and lawmaker Odilzon Toziyev said on Saturday.

Nevertheless, “the provocateurs who tried to cause riots do not represent the general opinion of the people of Karakalpak,” Tozhiyev said.

Officials in Karakalpakstan, which are beholden to the central government despite their legal autonomy, have taken a hard line.

A joint statement by the republic’s police, parliament and cabinet said “instigators” had tried to “seize state institutions… divide society and destabilize the socio-political situation in Uzbekistan”.

“A group of organizers of mass riots and people who actively resisted law enforcement agencies have been arrested. Investigations are underway against them,” Saturday’s statement said, blaming the unrest on “criminal groups”.

Internet is patchy in the western republic of Karakalpakstan, a region of two million people devastated by the drying up of the Aral Sea. Once the world’s fourth largest lake, it shrunk massively due to Soviet agricultural policies.

With a total population of 35 million, Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Muslim-majority Central Asia.

Beyond changes to the region’s status, Uzbekistan’s new constitution is expected to re-introduce a seven-year term for the presidency, favoring the strongman Shavkat Mirziyoyev and returning to the era of his autocratic predecessor and mentor, Islam Karimov.

Mirziyoyev campaigned for and won re-election last year under the “New Uzbekistan” campaign slogan, but critics accused Tashkent of backing away from rights after introducing economic and social reforms.

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