Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said Sunday (July 3) that recent anti-government protests in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakistan, located in the northwest of the country, had caused “victims”.

“Unfortunately, there are civilian and law enforcement casualties,” he said, speaking from the Karakalpakistan region. He did not specify the number of victims or confirm whether they were dead or injured.

Two residents of Noukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that a small group attempting to protest on Saturday evening, for the second night in a row, had been dispersed by the police. According to these witnesses, who requested anonymity, the police seem to have used tear gas and smoke grenades.

Noukus seemed calm on Sunday morning and was patrolled by the police, witnesses told AFP.

Violently suppressed opposition

Uzbekistan, a country where the opposition is violently repressed, on Saturday declared a state of emergency for a month in Karakalpakistan, rocked on Friday by a rare anti-government demonstration which prompted President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to abandon a project constitutional amendment. This amendment would have reduced the degree of autonomy of the republic populated by two million people, one of the poorest in the country.

Came to power in 2016 on the death of his predecessor, the ruthless Islam Karimov, Shavkat Mirziyoyev led major economic and social reforms. Re-elected last year, he is now accused of taking a new authoritarian turn in the country. With the revision of the proposed Constitution, the presidential term would increase from five to seven years, in favor of the current head of state.

In 2005, hundreds of Uzbek civilians were killed in the city of Andijan (in the east of the country), during the repression of a protest movement.