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Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev (file photo)

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has vowed to pursue reforms and called on officials across the Central Asian country to improve communications with ordinary people.

Mirziyoev spoke on December 22, in an end-of-year address to parliament that was broadcast live on state TV and billed by his office as Uzbekistan's first-ever state-of-the-nation speech.

Smiling frequently and casting himself as a team member, Mirziyoev seemed to be seeking to set himself apart from his autocratic predecessor, Islam Karimov, who ruled for more than a quarter-century before his death in 2016.

Mirziyoev, who was appointed interim president in September 2016 and elected in a tightly controlled vote in December, has sought to implement economic and social reforms, decrease Uzbekistan's isolation, and improve ties with regional neighbors. In the speech, he claimed have made progress and promised more.

"The first results of the large-scale reforms implemented in 2017 are reflected in our people's everyday lives. They woke up social activity among them and strengthened their confidence in tomorrow," Mirziyoev said in the speech, which was attended by foreign diplomats and watched by regional officials and civic group leaders via video link.

Uzbekistan's relations with Western countries were strained under Karimov, whose government was accused by human rights groups of severe and pervasive abuses. In recent months, several public figures, journalists, and politicians jailed on what rights activists say were politically motivated charges have been released.

In October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Uzbek authorities had taken "some positive steps" during Mirziyoev's first year in office and called for "sustainable" improvements in human rights.

Mirziyoev stressed the importance of democratic reforms in the country, saying that the functions of the state and government structures must be based on democratic principles.

He condemned officials, not mentioning names, who use vulgar words when talking to their subordinates or ordinary citizens.

"Governors of three districts cannot speak to the people. Who gave them the right to insult people? That shows their ignorance and illiteracy," he said, referring to recent media reports that carried videos of local authorities beating and insulting people.

Mirziyoev said the government has to focus on more reforms in the judicial, economic, education, science, and social spheres.

He declared 2018 "the year of support of active entrepreneurship, innovative ideas, and technologies" and said that 2017 has been the "the year of the dialogue between the government and ordinary people."

Mirziyoev also said that inspections of private businesses must be stopped in order to support small and medium-sized businesses in the country.

"If we stop lying to ourselves, if we sincerely want our country to prosper, our people to be proud members of society, and our children to be happy and looking to a bright future, we, all together, will be able to achieve a lot," Mirziyoev said at end of his address.

With reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Merhat Sharipzhan

A journalist with the independent Russian online media outlet Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasus Knot) says he is recovering after being shot in an attack he linked to his reporting.

Vyacheslav Prudnikov said that a man opened fire at him on December 21 when he was visiting a cemetery in Krasny Sulin, a town in the Rostov region in southern Russia.

Prudnikov said the attacker shouted, "We are fed up with your writing about authorities,” and fired at his face. He said he covered his face with his arm and a bullet hit his elbow.

Another bullet hit Prudnikov's rib when he was running away from the assailant, he said, adding that he had undergone surgery and his life was out of danger.

Prudnikov has been covering strikes in the town of Gukovo, where local miners have been demanding overdue salaries since September.

Kavkazsky Uzel was established by the rights group Memorial in 2001 and mainly covers Russia's North Caucasus, nearby regions in southern Russia, and the South Caucasus countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.

In January, Kavkazsky Uzel correspondent Vladislav Ryazantsev was beaten by unknown attackers in the city of Rostov-on-Don.

Another Kavkazsky Uzel correspondent, Akhmednabi Akhmednabiev, was shot dead near his house in Daghestan in July 2013. Nobody has been prosecuted for his killing.

With reporting by Kavkazsky Uzel

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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