The U.S. Embassy in Eritrea has reported gunfire and rare protests in the reclusive East African nation.

An embassy statement late Tuesday notes reports of gunfire "at several locations in Asmara due to protests" and advises U.S. citizens to avoid the downtown area.

The statement does not say why the protests occurred.

Eritrea's Information Minister Yemane Meskel has downplayed reports of unrest, saying on Twitter that "small demonstration by one school in Asmara dispersed without any casualty hardly breaking news."

Eritrea is a major source of migrants arriving in Europe. Its government has long faced criticism by human rights advocates over its harsh military conscription laws. The government has denied allegations of abuses.