Myanmar Police Beat Protesting Students

Myanmar police beat student activists Tuesday as they broke up another protest for education reform, an AFP reporter at the scene...

Myanmar police beat student activists Tuesday as they broke up another protest for education reform, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Demonstrators, including young activists and monks, scattered through the streets in the central town of Letpadan when hundreds of riot police dispersed the protest, lashing out as they moved to block streets.

The police action comes just days after Myanmar authorities violently cracked down on a supporting rally in the main city of Yangon.

Student protesters have embarked on months of demonstrations calling for education reform, but plans by a core group to march to Yangon have been halted by police near a monastery in the dusty central town of Letpadan, who surrounded around 150 activists from March 2.

One student protester, who asked not to be named, told AFP by phone that he was taking shelter with some 70 other demonstrators in the monastery, but police had surrounded the building.

“The police beat us,” he said, adding several protesters had sustained injuries.

“We cannot accept this kind of crackdown,” he added.

Soon afterwards, police were seen entering the monastery, according to an AFP reporter on the scene, and it was not immediately possible to make contact with the protesters.

Demonstrators had earlier scuffled with police as they tried to push through the security blockade.

Activists told AFP early Tuesday that tempers had frayed after authorities appeared to have reneged on an agreement to allow them to continue their march.

“If it isn’t going to go as we agreed, we will break the blockade,” activist Nanda Sit Aung said ahead of the altercation.

“They will choose whether they allow or arrest us,” he said, adding their protest was peaceful and had been long announced to authorities.

The government has defended its Friday crackdown on an unauthorised rally in the heart of the commercial hub of Yangon, despite accusations from witnesses and campaigners that police and men in civilian clothes beat unarmed protesters with batons.

Eight activists were briefly held in the police action, which caused outrage in a country where student activism is a potent political force.

Young campaigners have been at the forefront of several major uprisings, including a huge 1988 demonstration that prompted a bloody military assault under the former junta.

Observers fear democratic reforms in Myanmar, which is gradually emerging from decades of authoritarian rule, are stalling in the run-up to a breakthrough general election slated for the end of this year.

The latest crackdown has deepened concerns that authorities have not lost the repressive reflex forged during the junta era.

Students have rallied sporadically since November 2014 against an education law, demanding changes to the legislation to decentralise the school system, teach in ethnic languages, and allow the formation of student unions.

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