Myanmar police charge at student protesters
LETPADAN, Myanmar (AP) – Hundreds of riot police charged at students protesting Myanmar’s new education law on Tuesday, pummelling them with batons and then dragging them into trucks, bringing a quick, harsh end to a weeklong standoff.
Police threw stones and jumped over fences as they broke up the demonstration. Some students and monks were chased into a Buddhist monastery, said Honey Oo, a student leader.
“Many people were beaten and several arrested,” she said by telephone.
Deputy police chief Col. Win Sein said 114 people were detained and several students and police had been injured, but none seriously.
After the crackdown, police were seen celebrating and shouting, “Victory! Victory!”
Myanmar only recently began moving from a half-century of brutal military rule toward democracy. But the nominally civilian government installed four years ago has been grappling with the consequences of newfound freedoms of expression. It has been especially sensitive about public protests, arresting hundreds of people since taking office for peacefully expressing their views.
In November, around a hundred students started protesting a new law that puts all decisions about education policy and curriculum in the hands of a group largely made up of government ministers, which critics say undermines the autonomy of universities.
They have been joined by monks and other activists, bringing their number to around 200 in the last nine days, when they started a sit-in on a road near a monastery in Letpadan, about 140 kilometres (90 miles) north of Yangon, the country’s biggest city.
They wanted to march to Yangon, but security forces blocked them, forming a human chain and setting up barbed wire barriers.
Authorities warned “action would be taken” if they tried to go ahead.
Earlier Tuesday, the two sides had appeared close to reaching an agreement. Police said the students could march to a nearby town and then be transported to Yangon in government-provided trucks, but then demanded that the protesters refrain from shouting slogans or waving flags along the way.
More than 400 police blocked the road. The protesters, many wearing red T-shirts and bandanas, tried to push their way through the riot police, dressed in helmets and camouflage fatigues. Some monks in maroon robes joined the students.
The police then turned on the students, chasing after them with batons and sticks. Associated Press photographers said some protesters were beaten in the head, punched and kicked as they were dragged to the waiting trucks.
Several protesters were arrested, including two student leaders, Min Thwe Thit and Phyo Phyo Aung.
Myanmar’s government is especially sensitive about protests in Yangon because the city was the scene of 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations that spread through the country, eventually leading to the collapse of the previous military junta.
The government has crushed several protests in and around Yangon in the last week, usually by dragging demonstrators into trucks.