At least 18 people have been killed during protests in Karakalpakstan, a republic of Uzbekistan. The protests started when people took to the streets when the local authorities attempted to rewrite the Constitution.
The Uzbek authorities, at the initiative of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, proposed to introduce about 200 amendments to the Constitution. In particular, they included an amendment to extend the presidential office term from five to seven years and deprive Karakalpakstan of its sovereign status. It was the last point that caused an outburst of popular discontent.
Karakalpakstan is an independent republic within Uzbekistan, which takes almost 40 percent of the country's territory. According to the current Constitution, the republic independently governs issues of its administrative structure and has the right to withdraw from the country through a referendum. At the same time, it is the authorities of Uzbekistan that should ensure the independence of the republic.
Massive protests in Karakalpakstan started on July 1 and 2. The rallies took place in the cities of Chimbay and Muynak. Nukus, the capital of the sovereign republic, became the epicentre of the protests. The authorities, in response to the protests, pulled security forces to counter the protesters, set up roadblocks and tried to block the Internet connection. According to eyewitnesses, law enforcers used tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades.
The Interior Ministry of Uzbekistan blamed the protesters for what was happening. The people misinterpreted the reforms, officials claimed. The official authorities of Karakalpakstan regarded the rallies as an attempt to seize power and spoke about provocateurs who "manipulated consciousness" in order to "split the society" and destabilize Uzbekistan. Uzbek officials saw the influence of "unhealthy external forces from abroad" in the protests.
The authorities soon reported that law and order in Nukus was restored. A state of emergency and a curfew were implemented in Karakalpakstan for a month. According to the Office of the Prosecutor General of Uzbekistan, a total of 18 people were killed during the protests in the city, and another 243 were injured.
Nevertheless, the Parliament of Uzbekistan removed articles on the deprivation of Karakalpakstan's sovereignty from the draft law on constitutional amendments. Afterwards, local residents started receiving text messages saying that the section of the Constitution dedicated to the independence of the republic would remain unchanged.