The Uzbek prosecutor’s office reported on Monday, July 4, several deaths during the unrest that opposed anti-government protesters and security forces in northwestern Uzbekistan at the end of last week, where no opposition is tolerated.

“Eighteen people died of their injuries during the mass unrest in Nukus,” said prosecutors’ representative Abror Mamatov, according to the RIA Novosti news agency, during a briefing on the events. The Uzbek National Guard reported 243 injuries.

This new episode of violence adds to the long list of clashes, riots, repressions and clashes that regularly shake Central Asia, a region made up of five former Soviet republics over which Russia exercises great influence.

The President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, on Sunday recognized “victims”, among civilians and the police, following demonstrations on Friday and Saturday to denounce a constitutional reform project reducing the autonomy of Karakalpakistan, an impoverished region of northwest Uzbek, of which Nukus is the capital.

The representative of the prosecution announced the opening of an investigation for “attack against the constitutional order of the country”. The sequence of events remains very vague, the authorities having cut off most of the means of communication during the clashes. A few videos have leaked on the Internet, showing injured and unconscious people.

Emergency state

On Saturday, a month-long state of emergency was declared in the region. At the same time, the Uzbek president has promised to withdraw the decried constitutional amendments. Mr. Mirziyoyev also accused protest organizers of “hiding behind political slogans” to seek “to take control of official local government buildings” and to seize weapons.

Since its independence to the fall of the USSR, Uzbekistan has never let any opposition emerge. Came to power in 2016 on the death of his predecessor, the ruthless Islam Karimov, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, until then prime minister, carried out major economic and social reforms, also promising timid measures of political liberalization.

Re-elected last year, he more recently gave a turn of the screw. The Head of State wants to reform the Constitution to allow him to stay in power longer. The Nukus unrest is the most serious internal crisis that President Mirziyoyev has faced so far. In 2005, Islam Karimov bloodily suppressed demonstrations in Andijan. Hundreds of people died there.

Vast protest movement

Uzbekistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan, is by far the most populous country in ex-Soviet Central Asia with some 35 million people. In January, another authoritarian state in the region, Kazakhstan, crushed a vast protest movement, killing more than 230 people. These events came as a shock, as this country had until then been considered the most stable and prosperous in the region.

The other neighboring countries have also experienced turbulent times in the recent past, with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan clashing, for example, regularly on their common border, particularly due to conflicts over access to land and water. The Tajik authorities have also just carried out an operation presented as “anti-terrorist” to neutralize influential local figures in the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan (BGAO), a vast mountainous area of ​​the Pamir massif.

Kyrgyzstan has experienced three revolutions since 2005 (2005, 2010, 2020), as well as serious ethnic violence targeting the Uzbek minority in 2010 in the south of the country. Russia supports the powers in place in these countries which it considers to belong to its own backyard. Central Asia, at the crossroads between South Asia, China, Europe and Russia, has vast natural resources (hydrocarbons, minerals) arousing Russian, Chinese and Western covetousness.