Burma: Riot police charge student protest

Protests by students objecting to new education laws in Burma were ended by riot police. Picture: GettyProtests by students objecting to new education laws in Burma were ended by riot police. Picture: Getty
Protests by students objecting to new education laws in Burma were ended by riot police. Picture: Getty
HUNDREDS of riot police charged at students protesting against Burma’s new education law, beating them with batons before dragging them into lorries, ending a week-long stand off.

Dozens of protesters were injured and at least 30 were said to have been arrested.

After the crackdown, officers were seen celebrating and shouting: “Victory! Victory!”.

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Journalists covering the protest were also said to have been injured and arrested.

A European Union delegation, which has been training the police in crowd management, condemned the crackdown, saying in a statement that it “deeply regrets the use of force against peaceful demonstrators”.

The Interim Burmese Press Council, meanwhile, said it was filing a complaint and protested “in the strongest terms against the arrest of reporters”.

It did not say how many journalists had been detained.

The protesters began their sit-in just over a week ago on a road near a monastery in Letpadan after police barred them from marching to Yangon, Burma’s biggest city, 90 miles to the south. Authorities had warned “action would be taken” if they tried to go ahead.

The demonstrators want the government to scrap a newly passed education law they say curbs academic freedom.

The two sides had appeared close to reaching an agreement earlier yesterday when the authorities said the students could march to a nearby town and then be transported to Yangon in government-provided lorries. But when they demanded that the protesters refrain from shouting slogans or waving flags along the way, tensions again soared.

More than 400 police formed human chains to block the road.

Around 200 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 also joined the students.

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The police then turned on the crowd, chasing after them with batons and sticks.

Witnesses said some protesters were beaten on the head, punched and kicked as they were dragged to the waiting trucks.

Among the protesters who were arrested was one student leader, Min Thwe Thit.

Another student leader contacted by phone, Honey Oo, said police chased the protesters into the nearby monastery, beat them and then dragged them away. “Many have been beaten and some have been arrested, including many female students,” she said.

There was no immediate response to the claims from the police or government.

Burma 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.

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In November, around 100 students began protesting against the new education law.

The students want changes to be made to a new bill which they say centralises control over higher education.

They want more power to be devolved to universities and higher education institutions, the right to form student ­unions, and teaching in ethnic minority languages.

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