Police fired tear gas and warning shots on Tuesday at thousands of opposition supporters protesting against a planned referendum on constitutional reform that they say is aimed at keeping Congo Republic President Denis Sassou Nguesso in power.
Waving banners reading “Sassou get out” and “No to the referendum”, protesters gathered in several central neighbourhoods in defiance of a government ban on public meetings issued on Monday.
Marchers scattered after the police opened fire, but remained on the streets, burning tires and erecting barricades on several major thoroughfares.
A Reuters witness said he saw at least two wounded protesters. Shops, schools and government buildings remained closed, he said.
At least three people were shot dead, according to a Reuters reporter who saw the bodies at the central morgue in Brazzaville.
A witness who brought one of the bodies to the morgue said his friend had been shot by security forces. “I was there when they opened fire. I was lucky it wasn’t me who was killed,” he told Reuters, declining to give his name.
“People are demonstrating across the city. The police are firing tear gas bombs,” said Tresor Nzila, executive director of Congolese Observatory of Human Rights. “In certain places, the police have fired warning shots with live fire.”
Nguesso, a former military commander, has ruled the oil producer for all but five years since 1979. Although he is barred from seeking a third term due to age and term limits, the 71-year-old is expected to be a candidate in 2016 elections.
His proposed constitutional reform, which will go to a referendum on Sunday, would remove the age limit on the presidency and could also restart the clock on presidential terms.
Tensions have been mounting in the central African nation in the run up to the vote. Four people were seriously wounded when a police officer fired on an opposition rally in the oil hub of Point-Noire on Saturday and remain in hospital.