BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - Security forces in Congo Republic's capital fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters, a day after police killed four opposition supporters.
Protests began in early October against a referendum that critics say is a ploy by President Denis Sassou Nguesso to prolong his grip on power. Recent attempts by veteran African leaders to prolong their rule have triggered violent protests in countries such as Burkina Faso.
Sunday's vote in Congo Republic will decide whether the constitution can be amended to raise the age limit and number of terms a president can serve. If the changes are made, 71-year-old Sassou Nguesso is widely expected to run for re-election next year, although he has not stated his intention to do so.
Early on Wednesday, the crowd marched towards the police station in the southern district of Makelekele chanting anti-government slogans and "We will rise up".
They built barricades and burnt tires as army reinforcements arrived to support police officers who had been forced to withdraw. Residents carrying belongings on their heads fled the area amid a thick cloud of tear gas, a Reuters witness said.
By midday, the majority of protesters had withdrawn from the street by midday. Daily life continued elsewhere in the capital, although some shops and offices remained closed.
On Tuesday, four people were killed when police opened fire on protesters in both Brazzaville and the coastal oil hub Pointe-Noire.
Interior minister Raymond Zephyrin Mboulou condemned Tuesday's protests in a radio address overnight and warned leaders and participants they would be held accountable.
Sixteen people have been called in for interrogation over the protests in which three security forces were seriously wounded and the houses of five politicians set ablaze, he said.
Opposition leaders vowed to organize further protests and to boycott Sunday's vote.
"We are using all democratic means so that Sassou Nguesso cannot succeed in his project," said Guy Romain Kinfoussia, a senior member of opposition alliance FROCAD, in an interview late on Tuesday. "We will be back on the streets."
Francois Conradie, analyst at South Africa-based NKC Independent Economists, warned that violence in Congo Republic was likely to get worse this week. Ethnic tension and an expected rise in oil wealth are raising the stakes, he said.
In Burkina Faso, crowds overthrew President Blaise Compaore for seeking to change the constitution a year ago.
The United States has already expressed concern about the referendum.
(Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Raissa Kasolowsky)