A rare public protest took place in Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan autonomous republic over a planned constitutional reform that would change its status, Uzbek authorities said Saturday.
Karakalpakstan, located in northwestern Uzbekistan, is home to Karakalpaks, a distinct ethnic minority group with its own language, and the current Uzbek constitution describes it 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.
According to Uzbekistan’s Interior Ministry, “as a result of misunderstanding the constitutional reforms” a group of Karakalpakstan residents marched through its capital Nukus and held a rally Friday at the city’s central market.
Separately, the government of Karakalpakstan said in a statement that protesters had tried to take over government buildings, prompting police to intervene and detain their leaders and those who put up active resistance.
Order has now been restored in the province, which has a population of 2 million people, said the authorities in Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic that has close ties with Russia.
Changes concerning Karakalpakstan are just one part of the broad constitutional reform proposed by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, which also includes strengthening civil rights and extending the presidential term to seven years from five.
If the referendum endorses the reform, it will reset Mirziyoyev’s term count and allow him to run for two more terms.