Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Friday said that he had authorised the law enforcement officials to open fire on protestors, whom he called terrorists, and kill them amid an unrest in the former Soviet country, reported AP.

For several days, largescale protests are taking place in the Central Asian country against rising fuel prices. The cost of liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, used in several vehicles in the country, has doubled after a price hike at the beginning of the year.

On Wednesday, the agitation had intensified as protestors attacked “administrative buildings, the Almaty city police department, as well as local police commissariats”, according to police spokesperson Saltanat Azirbek.

The spokesperson had said that “dozens of assailants were eliminated”.

The Kazakhstan interior ministry on Friday said that 26 “armed criminals” had been killed and 3,000 detained, reported Reuters. It also said that 18 police and national guard personnel had been killed since the protests began.

In a televised address on Friday, Tokayev alleged that the unrest in the country was due to “terrorists” and “militants”. He said that those who do not “surrender will be eliminated.”

He also dismissed calls from some countries to talk to the protestors as nonsense. “What negotiations can be held with criminals, murderers?” Tokayev asked.

The president said that an anti-terrorist operation has been launched.

“Constitutional order has largely been restored in all regions of the country,” he said. “Local authorities are in control of the situation. But terrorists are still using weapons and damaging the property of citizens. Therefore, counter-terrorist actions should be continued until the militants are completely eliminated.”

On Friday, gunshots were heard in the main square of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and the centre of protests, reported BBC.

A day ago, the government had announced a 180-day price cap on fuels and moratorium on utility rate hikes in an apparent attempt to placate the protestors. On Wednesday, Tokayev had accepted the resignation of the members of the Cabinet, but said that harsh measures would be taken against protestors to curb the agitations.

The president claimed that the protests were being carried out by “terrorist bands” and that they had received help from other countries. He had also sought help from Russia-led alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, which has five other former Soviet countries as its members. The forces arrived on Thursday.

The organisation’s chairperson, Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan, had also alleged that the protests took place due to “outside interference”.

The demonstrators have expressed their opposition to Tokayev’s predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev. The former president retains a significant amount of power even after resigning in 2019 following a three-decade rule.

In the city of Aqtobe, protestors shouted slogans of “Old Man, go away!”, referring to Nazarbayev.

Earlier this month, Tokayev had sacked Nazarbayev as the head of the country’s Security Council in an attempt to control the protests. He also removed Nazarbayev’s nephew from the second-highest position in the State Security Committee.