The Straw and the Camel

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At least 18 people died and more than 240 others were injured during clashes between protesters and security forces in the northwestern Uzbek province of Karakalpakstan, a rare outbreak of unrest in the repressive Central Asian nation over autonomy, Al Jazeera reported Monday.

Officials said they detained more than 500 people and declared a state of emergency in the autonomous province.

The unrest began over proposed constitutional changes that would have altered the status of Karakalpakstan, a region home to the ethnic Karakalpaks, a minority group whose language is closer to Kazakh than Uzbek.

The changes would have stripped the province of its autonomy and right to secede from Uzbekistan.

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev dropped the proposed amendments Saturday, a day after demonstrators tried to seize local government buildings in the region.

The clashes mark the worst bout of violence in Uzbekistan in nearly 20 years. Analysts noted that protests are very rare in the tightly-controlled former Soviet republic.

Opposition parties condemned the use of lethal force against demonstrators and warned that the situation could escalate into an ethnic conflict between Uzbeks and Karakalpaks.

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