By Olzhas Auyezov
ALMATY (Reuters) - Police broke up an anti-government protest in Kazakhstan's biggest city Almaty on Saturday, detaining dozens of protesters and cordoning off the city's main square.
Opponents of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has been in power since 1989, had called for rallies on Saturday in all major cities, extending a series of demonstrations that started last month in response to plans to privatize large tracts of farmland.
Around 100 protesters had gathered at a police checkpoint that blocked access to Almaty's main square.
Reuters witnesses saw police in full riot gear chase the protesters down the street, detaining them one-by-one and putting them into buses.
Police also briefly detained two Reuters reporters but released them after driving them a short distance in a police van.
Kazakh authorities had warned that the planned rallies were "illegal" and that authorities would react.
"Law enforcement bodies are obliged to prevent any violations and immediately take the necessary legal measures including criminal prosecution," Prosecutor General Zhakip Asanov had said in a statement on Friday.
Earlier this week, police and courts detained at least half a dozen activists in several cities who had planned to take part in Saturday's protests.
Although relatively small so far, with the biggest no more than a few thousand strong, the recent protests have become the most visible and geographically broad display of public discontent against the president's rule in more than a decade.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov, writing by Jason Bush; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)