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Burma police charge student protest


A student joins a sit-in protest in Letpadan, north of Yangon, in Burma (AP)

A student joins a sit-in protest in Letpadan, north of Yangon, in Burma (AP)

A student joins a sit-in protest in Letpadan, north of Yangon, in Burma (AP)

Hundreds of riot police charged at students protesting against Burma's new education law today, pummelling them with batons and then dragging them into trucks as they brought a week-long stand-off to an abrupt end.

Authorities said more than 120 people were arrested as s ecurity forces broke up the demonstration, with some witnesses claiming stones had been thrown at protesters.

Dozens of students and monks were chased into a Buddhist monastery, said Honey Oo, a student leader. "Many people were beaten and several arrested."

After the crackdown, police were said to have been seen celebrating and shouting "Victory, victory".

Information minister Ye Htut said 127 people, including 65 students, were detained and 16 policemen and eight students had been injured.

While there were no reported deaths, the violence served as a reminder of Burma's recent days of brutal, authoritarian rule.

A European Union delegation that has been training local police in crowd control issued a statement expressing deep concern over the use of force against protesters and calling for a formal investigation.

The nominally civilian government installed four years ago has been grappling with the consequences of new-found freedoms of expression. It has been especially sensitive about public protests, arresting hundreds of people since taking office for peacefully expressing their views.

In January, about a hundred students started marching from Burma's second biggest city Mandalay to the old capital Yangon, to protest against a new law that puts all decisions about education policy and curriculum in the hands of a group largely made up of government ministers, which critics say undermines the autonomy of universities.

The demonstrators were joined by monks and other activists, bringing their number to around 200 in the last nine days, when they were blocked by police and began a sit-in on a road near a monastery in Letpadan, about 90 miles north of Yangon.

Early today, the two sides had appeared close to reaching an agreement.

Police said the students could march to a nearby town and then be transported to Yangon in government-provided trucks, but then demanded that the protesters refrain from shouting slogans or waving flags.

Hundreds of police wearing helmets and fatigues formed a human chain several layers deep across the road while setting up barbed-wire barriers. The protesters, many wearing red T-shirts and bandanas, tried to push their way through. Some monks in maroon robes joined the students.

The police then abruptly turned on the students, chasing them with batons and sticks. Photographers at the scene said some protesters were beaten on the head, punched and kicked as they were dragged to the waiting trucks.

Those arrested included two student leaders, Min Thwe Thit and Phyo Phyo Aung.