N’DJAMENA, Chad (AP) — Chadian security forces opened fire on anti-government demonstrators in the country’s two largest cities Thursday killing at least 60 people, the government spokesman and a morgue official said.

Authorities imposed a curfew after the violence, which came amid demonstrations in the central African nation against interim leader Mahamat Idriss Deby’s two-year extension of his power.

Thursday’s unrest was unprecedented in Chad, which saw little public dissent during the previous regime of Deby’s father, who ruled for more than three decades until his assassination last year.

France, the African Union and others swiftly condemned the security crackdown on the demonstrators.

Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s regional director for West and Central Africa, called on the Chadian authorities “to immediately cease the excessive use of force against protesters.”

“The authorities must take immediate steps to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for unlawful killings,” she said.

Chadian government spokesman Aziz Mahamat Saleh said 30 people were dead in the capital, N’Djamena. Organizers of the march, though, placed the toll higher, at 40, with many wounded by bullets as well. There was no independent corroboration of the figures given by the two sides..

Another 32 protesters were killed in Chad’s second-largest city, Moundou, according to an official in the city’s morgue. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said more than 60 people were wounded.

Other protests were held in the southern Chadian towns of Doba and Sarh.

These were the deadliest anti-government protests since Deby took over in the wake of his father’s assassination 18 months ago. Officials said the late President Idriss Deby Itno was killed by rebels while visiting Chadian troops on the battlefield in the country’s north in April 2021.

At the main reference hospital in the capital N’Djamena, overwhelmed doctors tended to scores of people with gunshot wounds. Some of the wounded were taken to Liberty Hospital by army vehicles and bore signs of having been tortured, witnesses said.

Witnesses say demonstrators began to blow whistles at 3 a.m. all over the capital of N’Djamena. Police fired tear gas at the crowds, which continued advancing and their numbers grew. It was then that security forces opened fire, leaving protesters struggling to gather the dead from the scene amid the tear gas.

Among those killed was a Chadian journalist, Narcisse Oredje, who worked for CEFOD radio and was struck by a bullet.

Amnesty International said it was not the first time that Chadian security forces have fired on civilians, citing two other incidents in 2022 and 2021.

Such public displays of dissent were unheard of during the rule of Deby’s father, but several demonstrations have been held since his son became interim leader.

Mahamat Idriss Deby was declared the head of state after his father’s death instead of following the Chadian constitution’s line of succession. Opposition political parties at the time called the handover a coup d’etat, but later agreed to accept Deby as interim leader for 18 months.

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Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal.