U.S. calls for investigation into deadly Uzbekistan violence

·1 min read
FILE PHOTO: Uzbek service members are seen in Nukus, capital of the northwestern Karakalpakstan region

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday urged authorities to pursue a credible investigation into deadly violence in Uzbekistan's autonomous province of Karakalpakstan last week.

Eighteen people were killed and 243 wounded during protests over plans to curtail Karakalpakstan's autonomy, Uzbek authorities said on Monday - the worst bout of violence in the Central Asian nation in 17 years.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a statement urged parties to seek a peaceful resolution and called on Uzbekistan's authorities to "protect all fundamental rights, including peaceful assembly and expression."

"We urge authorities to pursue a full, credible, and transparent investigation into the violence, consistent with international norms and best practices," he added.

Uzbekistan is a tightly controlled former Soviet republic where the government clamps down hard on any form of dissent. It was the second outbreak of unrest in Central Asia this year, after Kazakhstan crushed mass protests in January and Russia and other former Soviet republics sent in troops to help the authorities restore order.

The protests in Uzbekistan were prompted by planned constitutional changes that would have stripped Karakalpakstan of its autonomous status. In an about-turn, the president dropped those plans on Saturday.

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.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; editing by Grant McCool)

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