03/05/2015, 00.00
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Police beat and arrest protesters in Yangon

by Francis Khoo Thwe
Security forces and plainclothes agents target students and activists protesting in favour of changes to a proposed education reform bill. Witnesses say that some demonstrators were slightly injured. Sources told AsiaNews that some leading dissidents were among the people arrested. Some 200 people were protesting when the crackdown took place.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - Burmese police, with the help of plainclothes and paramilitary officers, attacked students and activists who were staging a protest in Yangon demanding changes to a controversial education bill, currently before Parliament.

Baton-wielding police charged the protesters. After throwing them into lorries, they took them away to an unknown destination. 

Sources told AsiaNews that Burmese opposition leaders Nilar Thein, Nemo Hlaing and Ma Nu, from the 88 Generation Students movement were among the 30 or more people protesting in Yangon. Several demonstrators were slightly injured and many were arrested, witnesses said.

They had gathered in solidarity with 200 students surrounded by police in the town of Letpadan, where the authorities have blocked their march towards Yangon, threatening use force to uphold "law and order".

Since 2011, Myanmar has been engaged in a series of political and institutional reforms toward greater democracy after the military dictatorship ended with the establishment of a semi-civilian government and the appointment of Thein Sein, a former junta general, as president.

However, the process of change - which saw Western sanctions partially lift sanctions - has slowed down considerably. Despite changes, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still barred from running for president.

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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