By NBF News

Security forces are struggling to contain ethnic clashes in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, in which 49 people are now known to have been killed.

As the violence went into a second day, thousands fled towards the border with Uzbekistan, to escape the fighting between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks.

Uzbek homes and the city's main market are ablaze and gunfire can still be heard, reports say.

A state of emergency and a curfew has been imposed by the interim government.

More than 650 people have been hurt, health ministry officials said.

It is the worst violence the Central Asian country has seen since the president was overthrown in April.

“Entire streets are on fire,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Rakhmatillo Akhmedov.

“The situation is very bad. There is no sign of it stopping. Homes have been set ablaze,” he said.

Most of the properties attacked appear to belong to ethnic Uzbeks, reports say.

Machine-gun fire can be heard as troops try to regain control of the streets, the Associated Press reports.

Kyrgyz men, armed with metal bars and automatic weapons, are arriving in Osh from elsewhere, AP quotes police and local residents as saying.

Osh is home to a large ethnic Uzbek community and was the power base of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

The cause of the fighting is unclear. According to local reports, the violence broke out between rival gangs and developed into gun battles late on Thursday.

In 1990, hundreds of people were killed in Osh in clashes between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbek groups.

Appeal for calm
The interim government, which came to power after Mr Bakiyev's removal, has been struggling to impose order in Osh.

Roza Otunbayeva, leader of the interim government, warned of further violence in the coming days.

It comes ahead of a referendum on the constitution, scheduled for 27 June.

The leaders of Russia and China – which borders Kyrgyzstan – have appealed for calm.

The political crisis has raised fears of a civil war in the country, where both Russia and the US have military bases.

Washington uses the base about 300km (190 miles) from Osh for US operations in Afghanistan.

Mr Bakiyev fled with his family to Belarus after violent clashes between government forces and protesters on 7 April.