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Security forces in the Republic of Congo must refrain from using excessive force against protesters, Amnesty International said today.

Five people are reported to have been killed among reports that the police used live ammunition against protesters who gathered to demonstrate against the proposed changes to the country’s constitution ahead of Sunday’s referendum.

“A heavy-handed response by security forces not only violates the protesters’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, but may enflame an already tense situation,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International Central Africa researcher.

“The use of force and the deaths of protesters must be independently, impartially and effectively investigated and if there are grounds to suspect individuals of criminal responsibility they must be brought to justice.”

 Media freedom is also under threat with mobile Internet services, text messaging and the signal of some radio stations cut in Brazzaville.

“Shutting down communication networks and radio signals is a clear and unjustified attack on media freedom,” said Allegrozzi.

“Authorities must ensure that journalists are able to carry out their work without fear, free from intimidation and harassment.”