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JIZZAKH: On stage in front of a few hundred people, an entertainer desperately tries to sell a controversial April referendum that could extend the rule of Uzbekistan's autocratic leader until 2040.

The April 30 vote is on a constitutional amendment that would introduce seven-year presidential terms and allow President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to run for two new terms.

This would allow Mirziyoyev, in power since 2016, to potentially rule for two more decades.

"Will you come to vote?" the entertainer asks the mostly young crowd.

Few doubt the outcome of the referendum, billed as ushering in an "era of development".

Some of the students at the event in Jizzakh in central Uzbekistan told AFP their professors forced them to come and even provided them with flags, banners and caps.

Anyone attempting to leave the two-hour rally was promptly told to "turn back."

"The constitution is yours, mine, ours!" and "Yes, we'll come vote", the students sing.

The government has spared no resources and called up singers and athletes to beat the general apathy.

The crowd was treated to a free concert by Gulsanam Mamazoitova, a singer with over one million followers on Instagram.

In the audience, Nigora, a student who declined to give her full name, said people in the Central Asian nation "need to support the president and this constitution".

"For me, this referendum is very important," Nigora told AFP.

'No other leader'

Oibek Alizhonov, a 45-year-old entrepreneur, said he supported Mirziyoyev's policies "200 percent" and "sees no other leader".

But Saera Yakhshilokova told AFP "the length of the presidential mandate should not be changed."

"No one should be in power well into old age. Presidents should be changed through elections."

Mirziyoyev introduced some reforms after decades of dictatorial rule under former leader Islam Karimov but he is still criticised for his rights record.

His constitutional reforms started with bloodshed.

Bulgaria votes for fifth time in two years under Ukraine shadow

Last July, 21 people died in protests over changes that would have undermined self-determination in the republic of Karakalpakstan and forced a rare U-turn by Mirziyoyev.

Azimzhon Okmurodov, a student, said: "I like some amendments on the judicial system, but I do not agree with the extension of the presidential mandate.

"In the end, there will just end up being the one person ruling the country for a long time," he told AFP.

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