(Update: adds reports on Almaty explosions)
Nur-Sultan/Moscow Jan 6 (EFE).- Several powerful explosions on Thursday were heard in the main square of Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, the epicenter of violent protests in which dozens of people have been killed and thousands arrested.
Police have urged people gathered in Almaty’s Republic Square to disperse.
“We are fleeing, very loud explosions are heard coming from the square,” a witness told the Russian news agency TASS.
Law enforcement officers opened fire on the protesters, TASS reported.
“People were surely injured. We cannot say how many are dead, it is impossible to approach there,” another witness told the Russian agency.
The witness said that “shooting in the square continued for fifteen minutes.”
Officials in Almaty reported that “a group of terrorists was killed next to the headquarters of the District Police Directorate of Almaty” as part of the police action to regain control of the city.
Kazakh authorities said that “gangs of marauders who destroy banks, cafes, restaurants, shops and large shopping centers” continue to operate in this city and other regions of Kazakhstan.
Earlier on Thursday, Kazakhstan’s police and army said an “anti-terrorist operation” was being carried out in Almaty’s administrative center, leading to the deaths of “dozens of attackers”, according to the Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency.
A police representative said that during the early morning “extremist forces attempted to seize several administrative headquarters, the Almaty police department, as well as several regional police units.”
Police in Almaty have arrested around 2,000 protesters, the Interior Ministry said.
On Wednesday authorities reported the deaths of at least 10 uniformed personnel during the riots and fighting to expel protesters from Almaty airport.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev assumed the leadership of the Security Council and promised to act firmly in the face of protests that have shaken the country.
The head of state subsequently requested assistance from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance consisting of six former Soviet republics, including Russia, which has already agreed to his request.
The demonstrations broke out on January 2 in response to an increase in liquefied gas prices, the main automotive fuel used in the Central Asian nation, but they turned into riots on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the storming of administrative headquarters and serious acts of vandalism. EFE