Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Myanmar, Batons Fly as Student Protesters Meet Harsh Response

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Myanmar, Batons Fly as Student Protesters Meet Harsh Response

Article excerpt

Hundreds of Myanmar police struck out violently against university students and activists protesting a new education law, hitting and dragging them away to trucks, and bringing an ugly end to a month of demonstrations in this small town.

The government says its reforms will give universities more autonomy and allow for an independent body to coordinate their functions. Myanmar once had one of the best university systems in Southeast Asia, but standards fell sharply during nearly five decades of military rule.

But students say the new law will curb academic freedom, weaken the role of professors and student unions, and centralize an anti- democratic authority over universities. Their protests have spread across the country, and many protesters have worn symbolic straw hats and sung songs that hearken back to historic democratic uprisings in 1988.

In Letpadan today groups of police ran down fleeing students, chasing them into a Buddhist temple, into local rural houses, and across farmland. Police officers swung black batons at the heads of protesters and punched and kicked them. Non-uniformed men also attacked the students with sticks.

The protest started out quietly in the morning with about 75 students and activists and 14 Buddhist monks sitting in front of a police barricade. Students waved bright red flags emblazoned with a golden fighting peacock, a national symbol since the time of the Burmese monarchy. Students punched the air as they shouted: "We don't need a new education law. We need democratic education." One group held a large cloth sign simply proclaiming "Democracy."

The protests here begun more than a month ago in a monastery after the government refused to allow the students permission to march to Yangon, the capital, 90 miles to the south, to protest the education law.

Police and students nearly reached an agreement that would allow protesters to board government-provided vehicles for the ride to Yangon. Yet talks broke down when authorities insisted mid-day the group could not carry their flags. Several several hundred police continued to block the students from leaving the closed-off area just outside the monastery. …

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