Eighteen people were killed and 243 wounded during unrest in Uzbekistan’s autonomous province of Karakalpakstan over plans to curtail its autonomy, Uzbek authorities said.
Security forces detained 516 people while dispersing protesters on Friday but have released many of them, the national guard press office told a briefing.
Op Saterdag, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev dropped plans to amend articles of the constitution concerning Karakalpakstan’s autonomy and its right to secede. He also declared a month-long state of emergency in the north-western province.
According to official reports, protesters marched through the provincial capital of Nukus last Friday and tried to seize local government buildings.
Photographs from Nukus, published on Sunday by the news website Kun.uz, showed street barricades, burnt out trucks and a heavy military presence including armoured personnel carriers.
Videos shared on social media showed at least two severely wounded people being carried away by their arms and legs. One was bleeding from the abdomen, while the other was screaming.
Another showed a young man crouching by an apparently lifeless body in the street, screaming “a man is dying”, and running for cover as shots rang out.
An exiled opposition politician, Pulat Ahunov, told Reuters over the weekend that people were unable to move around or obtain more information because of a state of emergency imposed by the authorities.
Uzbekistan is a tightly controlled former Soviet republic where the government clamps down hard on any form of dissent. It was the second outbreak of unrest in central Asia this year, na Kazakhstan crushed mass protests in January and Russia and other former Soviet republics sent in troops to help restore order.
The protests in Uzbekistan were prompted by planned constitutional changes that would have stripped Karakalpakstan of its autonomous status. In a U-turn, the president dropped those plans on Saturday.
Ahunov, the chair of the opposition Berlik party, told Reuters from Sweden that he condemned the use of lethal force. “The authorities, from the start, should have opted for dialogue and negotiations," hy het gesê. He said he feared the potential for the situation to escalate into an ethnic conflict between Uzbeks and Karakalpaks, a minority group with their own language.
Authorities had called a public meeting for Tuesday to discuss the situation, hy het bygevoeg.
Kazakhstan said it was concerned by the events in Uzbekistan and welcomed moves by the authorities to stabilise the situation.
Steve Swerdlow, associate professor of human rights at the University of Southern California and an expert on the region, said Uzbekistan should engage as transparently as possible in declaring casualties and the use of force and over the longer term look at what concerns were at the heart of the protests.