ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — An Ethiopian police official in the restive Amhara region in the north confirmed Sunday evening that seven people were killed when worshippers celebrating the Epiphany holiday clashed with security forces.

The killings on Saturday in the town of Woldiya, some 500 kilometers (310 miles) north of the capital Addis Ababa, happened on the second day of the colorful Epiphany celebrations in this East African nation.

Amare Goshu, a police official in the region, told the state-owned Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation that seven people died, including one security officer, during the confrontation. He said that the security forces responded with force when youths in the town tried to attack officers who were patrolling the holiday procession areas. "More than 15 citizens and 2 police officers were also injured and are now receiving treatment," he said.

Two Woldiya residents, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the measures taken by the security forces were excessive and feared the death toll was higher. One claimed police fired on demonstrators who were throwing stones. The other said the death toll could rise further as gunshots could be heard until midday Sunday. Both added that a number of hotels, restaurants and shops were burned down by angry protesters.

Ethiopia's Amhara and Oromia regions have seen violent anti- government protests since November, 2015, when people took to the streets demanding political freedom and the release of political prisoners. Hundreds have been killed and more than 11,000 arrested, although most have since been released.

Ethiopia is an ally of the U.S. but it is often accused by rights groups of stifling dissent and arresting opposition figures and journalists critical of the government. A prominent opposition politician, Merera Gudina, was released on Wednesday as part of a pledge by the government to open up the political space and create a national consensus.