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At least 18 people were killed and 243 injured during protests in Uzbekistan’s region of Karakalpakstan last week, authorities have confirmed.
Unrest began in the province over plans to curtail its autonomy and security forces arrested at least 516 people while trying to control crowds last Friday.
The country’s president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, now says the plans will not be carried out and has also declared a month-long state of emergency in the region.
According to the National Guard, many detainees have been released following clashes last weekend in the regional capital of Nukus.
In a statement posted online, President Mirziyoyev said rioters had carried out “destructive actions” by throwing stones, starting fires and attacking police.
He also accused protestors of trying to “seize the buildings of local government bodies” in order to obtain weapons.
The rare outbreak of violence was sparked by plans to remove the region’s autonomous status and constitutional right to secede.
The province is home to just under two million people and is situated on the shores of the Aral Sea in the north-western part of the central Asian country.
It is also home to the ethnic group of Karakalpaks, who are a Turkic minority group with their own language and culture that is shares similarities with the Kazakhs of neighbouring Kazakhstan.
Since the deadly clashes and emergency declaration, the police and army are patrolling the streets of Nukus.
An exiled opposition politician, Pulat Ahunov, said people were unable to move around and obtain information.
Mr Ahunov, who is chairman of the opposition Berlik party, added that he fears of ethnic conflict arising between Karakalpaks and Uzbeks.
“There are still rallies going on in many locations,” he told Reuters from Sweden. “Overall, I think that the situation is starting to stabilise, but there is another kind of danger. There have been facts of ethnic clashes between the Karakalpaks and the Uzbeks.
“The situation can totally spin out of control. It will not be about the status of Karakalpakstan, it will be about a conflict between the Karakalpaks and the Uzbeks. It is the most dangerous thing.”
The clashes were the deadliest incidents of civil unrest seen in the region for almost two decades.