(Reuters) – The Americas’ top human rights agency on Thursday urged Argentine authorities to respect people’s freedom of assembly, after reports that police used excessive force against peaceful protesters and journalists.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)’s statement comes after June 12 demonstrations outside Argentina’s Congress opposing a contentious reform bill linked to libertarian President Javier Milei’s economic reforms.

“We are concerned about the disproportionate use of public force against journalists and individuals who take part in peaceful protests in Argentina, as well as about acts of violence perpetrated by private citizens during those protests,” the IACHR said.

Reuters footage showed a car ablaze during the protest, with scattered demonstrators throwing rocks and bottles. Police reportedly responded with less lethal weapons, including chemical irritants, batons, rubber bullets and water cannons, the IACHR said.

The government issued a statement saying security forces had held back “terrorists armed with sticks, rocks and even grenades, who tried to perpetrate a coup d’etat.”

Following the protests, 33 people were arrested on charges related to breaking public and constitutional order, but 28 were released due to insufficient evidence, leaving five in pretrial detention.

Milei’s Vice President Victoria Villarruel, whose vote broke a tie after an extended Congress debate, said she was voting to pass the bill citing two Argentinas – one violent and another waiting with pain “and sacrifice for the change that they voted for.”

The sprawling legislation, which promotes investment incentives, privatization of multiple state-owned entities, and tax overhauls, is part of Milei’s plan to battle the worst economic crisis in decades, with 300% inflation, high debt load and soaring poverty.

The IACHR underscored the importance of peaceful protests in democratic societies. Public force should only be used as a last resort and under lawful, necessary, and proportional circumstances, it said.

(Reporting by Natalia Siniawski; Editing by Bernadette Baum)