Burmese police beat and detain student activists as ultimatum reached

As a month-long standoff appeared to have been resolved, violence broke out between police and student activists at the Letpadan protest site.

For months now, Burmese student activists have been protesting against a controversial education reform that they say will curb academic freedoms. The students issued an 11-point demand for democratic reform and began a symbolic protest march from the city of Mandalay to Yangon. This march was blocked by police in Letpadan, a town some 140km from the capital, where the activists have camped for weeks as negotiations were held with authorities.

On Tuesday, March 10, just as the impasse appeared to have been resolved, violent clashes broke out when demonstrators tried to move through a police blockade. Activists were beaten and and 30 were reportedly detained.

UPDATE: Video of Tuesday’s clashes and below.

Journalists flee the scene amid threats to their safety. Video: April Maung Maung on Facebook

Below, we outline the background to the demonstration and Tuesday’s events.

In January, having received no response from government officials during a 60 day moratorium on earlier nationwide protests, student leaders renewed their demonstration against the National Education Law. Around 100 people began the march to Yangon.

Their destination — Burma’s famous Shwedagon Pagoda, the symbolic site of student activism going back to the first ever demonstration against the University Act in 1920.

On March 2, 100 students and monks announced a hunger strike in Letpadan, as police continued to block their rally from reaching Yangon.

On March 5, Yangon protesters in solidarity with Letpadan students were attacked by police and plainclothes in red armbands.

The European Union, having funded the training of Myanmar’s police forces for more “effective crowd control” with €10 million, reacted to the crackdown with a call for more police training.

Solidarity protests in Yangon continued in coming days, with overt media coverage, in stunning contrast to the 2007 protests, which were reported on covertly, and brutally suppressed by the military regime.

On March 10, after almost a month-long standoff at Letpadan, authorities agreed to lift the blockade as an ultimatum neared.

However, police insisted the student demonstrators should not chant or raise flags, leading to a tense standoff and students attempting to forcibly break the blockade.

Police then mounted a brutal crackdown.

Clashes between police and Letpadan protesters, March 10, 2015. Photo by May Wong, republished with permission.

Eyewitness reports from The Irrawaddy and the Democratic Voice of Burma described a “complete breakdown of police discipline,” with security forces going door-to-door to arrest protesters seeking shelter, damaging property, and assaulting journalists.

The actions of police in Letpadan sparked a solidarity demonstration in Yangon on Tuesday, which was swiftly and violently quashed, according to The Irrawaddy.

Below, the 11 point demands of the student protesters.

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