Gunmen reportedly killed Iranian policeman in restive southeast

Karakalpakstan remains in an ‘information vacuum’, residents say, as the situation began to stabilize after deadly protests last week against the Uzbek government’s plan to hold a vote on the autonomous status of the region.

“We no longer have access to information,” a 33-year-old man told RFE/RL, speaking by phone from the remote region’s capital, Nukus.

“People are scared – ward committee leaders are going door to door and warning people, ‘Don’t take to the streets or we won’t be responsible if you are detained,'” the man said. condition of anonymity.

Authorities said on July 6 that the internet had been “temporarily” restricted in Karakalpakstan to prevent the spread of false information “aimed at inciting separatism” and “destabilizing” the country.

The government says 18 people were killed and more than 200 injured in clashes between protesters and security forces on July 1 and 2. But a local health official and several residents told RFE/RL they believed the death toll was much higher.

Soldiers guard a road during a government-organized press visit to Nukus on July 6, 2022.

The protests mark the worst violence in the authoritarian Central Asian country since anti-government protests in the eastern city of Andijon in 2005, when hundreds were killed.

The government said normality had returned to Karakalpakstan, where “grocery stores, bazaars, bakeries, banks, hospitals and other social facilities” have reopened.

The Interior Ministry said mobile phone connections “are fully operational”, but it did not say when internet access will be restored.

Uzbek media reported earlier in the week that ATMs were not working and many government services were also unavailable in Karakalpakstan, a huge region that makes up western Uzbekistan.

A senior Karakalpakstan interior ministry official said it was possible a month-long state of emergency imposed on July 2 could be lifted earlier than expected.

“Now the situation in Nukus is calm. It was said in a [government] meeting that if the situation remains like this, the authorities will end the curfew sooner than expected,” the official told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity.

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Several residents who spoke to RFE/RL confirmed that the situation has calmed down in the area. But they said there are still many security checkpoints in Nukus and other towns, including the town of Shymbai, where the protests began.

Soldiers and police are still patrolling the streets, while armored personnel carriers can be seen in towns, they said.

A resident of Nukus said there were “checkpoints set up all over the border” between Karakalpakstan and neighboring provinces.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said trade had been suspended between Karakalpakstan and neighboring Khorezm province, cutting off many people from a key supply route.

“Residents of remote districts of Amudarya and Ellikqala depend on products and goods delivered from Khorezm province, but this has been closed,” he said.

“Many women among the injured”

Unrest in Karakalpakstan erupted after Tashkent unveiled a package of constitutional amendments that included a proposal to effectively remove the region’s right to seek independence if the citizens decide so in a referendum.

Trucks burned during protests in Nukus on July 6.

Trucks burned during protests in Nukus on July 6.

But the government later scrapped the plan in an attempt to appease protesters in Karakalpakstan, a mostly desert region of nearly 2 million people.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has accused unspecified foreign forces of inciting violence to stoke inter-ethnic conflict in the country.

Authorities said on July 4 that 516 people had been arrested following the protests, but many had been released, while others had been sentenced to 15 days in detention.

But there have been alarming allegations that some of the detainees – the alleged organizers of the protests – have been taken to detention centers in Khorezm and Bukhara provinces.

Prosecutors said they were launching criminal investigations on several counts, including attempted power grabs.

An Uzbek soldier guards a street in Nukus, capital of the northwestern region of Karakalpakstan, on July 3.

An Uzbek soldier guards a street in Nukus, capital of the northwestern region of Karakalpakstan, on July 3.

Some activists have also said members of the Karakalpak diaspora in neighboring Kazakhstan have been interrogated by Uzbek police officials.

Hamidjon Dadabaev, deputy commander of the National Guard, told reporters on July 6 that there were foreign citizens among those arrested. But he didn’t provide further details, saying “that will be revealed later.”

The families of the victims are burying their dead while dozens of injured are still hospitalized, some in serious condition.

A health official in Nukus told RFE/RL that “there were many women” among the injured. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the exact death toll has not yet been determined. “But it’s definitely over 18,” he said.

The United Nations and the United States have called for a transparent and independent investigation into the violence.

Kazakh Service and RFE/RL Current Time contributed to this report.

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