Eighteen people were killed and 243 wounded during unrest in Uzbekistan’s autonomous province of Karakalpakstan last week, Uzbek authorities said on Monday — the worst bout of violence in the Central Asian nation in 17 years.

Iran PressAsia: From last Friday, unrest and demonstrations came after rare protests and clashes with authorities in the northwestern region of Uzbekistan's autonomous province of Karakalpakstan that saw thousands of people take to the streets in protest.

Some demonstrators even tried to storm local government buildings in the region's capital, Nukus.

Security forces detained 516 people during the protests, which broke out over plans to curtail Karakalpakstan's autonomy, but have now released many of them, the National Guard press office told a briefing.

On Saturday, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev dropped plans to amend articles of the constitution concerning Karakalpakstan's sovereignty and right to secede. He also declared a month-long state of emergency in the northwestern province.

According to the prosecutor general's office, 18 people died "from grave wounds" sustained during the clashes. Russia's RIA news agency quoted the head of the National Guard as saying the toll included 14 civilians and four law enforcement officers.

Two exiled opposition politicians in contact with people on the ground told Reuters they believed the actual figure was much higher. It was not possible to independently establish the death toll.

Karakalpakstan — situated on the shores of the Aral Sea, for decades an environmental disaster site — is home to the Karakalpaks, an ethnic minority group whose language is distinct from Uzbek, although related.

There are an estimated 700,000 Karakalpaks among Uzbekistan's 34 million people, most of them in the autonomous republic. Geographic and linguistic proximity has led many to seek work and sometimes relocate to neighboring Kazakhstan.

In 2005, Uzbek security forces crushed armed protests in the city of Andizhan, located in the opposite eastern part of Uzbekistan. The government at the time blamed Islamist extremists for the crisis in Andizhan, in which 173 people were killed, according to official reports.


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