Uzbek president says there are casualties from protests in unrest-hit region: Russian agencies

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev declared a month-long state of emergency in the north-western Karakalpakstan region. PHOTO: REUTERS

TASHKENT (AFP, REUTERS) - Thousands of people have been hospitalised after unrest in the capital of Uzbekistan’s autonomous Karakalpakstan province, Uzbek news website Daryo.uz cited a local official as saying on Sunday (June 3).

It quoted Sultanbek Ziyayev, the head of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, as saying that hospitals in the city of Nukus were full of patients who had been wounded when protesters clashed with security forces.

“Thousands of wounded have been hospitalised and are being treated,” he said, according to the website.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said on Sunday there were casualties among civilians and law enforcement officers after unrest in the country’s north-western Karakalpakstan province, Russian news agencies reported.

A RIA report used the word “victims”, implying deaths, but a TASS report referred only to “casualties”.

Mr Mirziyoyev’s comments came a day after he dropped plans to roll back the province’s autonomy following a rare public protest there.

A state of emergency was also put in place on Saturday in the autonomous region after eyewitnesses told AFP that police had broken up a second night of anti-government protests in the administrative centre Nukus.

Mr Mirziyoyev was visiting the region for a second time in an attempt to calm a crisis that saw thousands take to the streets on Friday and caused him to backpedal over draft constitutional amendments that would have weakened the republic's autonomy.

Internet in the region remains restricted but a drip of videos, mostly shared via the Telegram app, has raised concerns that a security crackdown has left multiple people dead.

Lawmaker Bobur Bekmurodov complained of "shameless provocations" as Internet users shared footage of men in uniform moving through a street covered in red liquid on Twitter.

"Dear friends, please do not become part of this shameless provocation. Check the information. It is just red colour water. Please, share the truth!"

The size of the protest on Friday was unprecedented for the Karakalpakstan region and possibly Uzbekistan, which saw over 170 people killed during unrest in 2005 in the city of Andijan according to an official toll considered conservative at the time.

Police said on Saturday they had detained "organisers of riots" but did not provide figures.

Two Nukus eyewitnesses speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed to AFP that a smaller group of protesters had gathered close to a city market before police broke up the demonstration using what appeared to be tear gas and smoke grenades.

Mr Mirziyoyev on Saturday ordered the month-long state of emergency in the region to "ensure the safety of citizens, protect their rights and freedoms (and) restore law and order".

Impoverished Karakalpakstan takes its name from the Karakalpak people. They are well represented in cities such as Nukus, but now constitute a minority overall in the western region of two million people.

Mr Mirziyoyev's press service said on Saturday night that he had met with lawmakers of Karakalpakstan's parliament and pledged articles of the constitution concerning the region would remain unchanged "on the basis of... the opinions stated by residents of Karakalpakstan".

The proposed changes that angered residents included an article removing the autonomous republic's constitutional right to secede from Uzbekistan via referendum.

One amendment set to remain in the draft document will allow presidents to run for seven-year terms, directly benefiting 64-year-old Mirziyoyev, who crushed token opponents to secure a second five-year term in October.

The draft constitution is expected to be put to a popular referendum in the coming months.

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