03/10/2015, 00.00
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Burmese police charge, arrest and injure students marching on Yangon

by Francis Khoo Thwe
Hundreds of police charged protesters, stopped student leader Min Thwe Thit. At first, the authorities allowed the march to resume, and then stopped it. Sources tell AsiaNews that scores of people were arrested with at least 30 injured. After the crackdown, police shouted "Victory, Victory".

Yangon (AsiaNews) - Hundreds of police in riot gear attacked students in the central town of Letpadan, about 140 km north of Yangon. For days, they had blocked and surrounded marchers who wanted to reach Myanmar's commercial capital to join the anti-Education reform protest movement.

Local sources told AsiaNews that "at first the authorities gave students the green light to resume the march towards Yangon", but when they "tried to remove the fences," they "moved in and charged."

Police made "scores of arrests" and "several people, at least 30 were injured" in the assault. Officers pummelled the hapless victims with batons.

Local witnesses said that student leader Min Thwe Thit was beaten up and found himself among those arrested.

Others noted that after the crackdown, police were seen celebrating and shouting, "Victory! Victory!"

Many protesters were beaten in the head, punched and kicked as they were dragged to the waiting lorries.

Some Buddhist monks marching with the students were caught up in the incident. A video released by the dissident website Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) shows the use of force by the authorities.

Last week, student representatives accused the government of violating a recently reached agreement on a draft education reform bill.

According to activists and academics, the Education Ministry has been circulating a different draft from what was originally agreed upon. For their part, the authorities continue to threaten protesters.

Initially, four parties - government, parliament, students and the National Network for Educational Reform (NNER) - had reached an agreement on 14 February after long and hard talks and many days of tensions.

The deal includes many of the students' demands, like academic freedom for educational institutions and the right of students and teachers to form their own unions.

However, the government appears to have disavowed the new draft, describing it as a simple "proposal" and continued to work on its first draft, which has been rejected by the students.

In a not too distant past, Myanmar's educational system was one of Asia's best. However, decades of military rule and tight control over high schools and universities have resulted in a decline that still weighs heavily on the quality of education and academic freedom.

The country's current rulers are worried that the students' threats to take their protests to the whole country could get out of hand. They remember that student-led pro-democracy demonstrations ended in a bloodbath in 1988 when the military cracked down on protesters. 

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