Students defy order to disperse

04 March 2015
Students defy order to disperse
Student protesters at Letpadan in Bago on March 4, 2015. Photo: Min Min/Mizzima

Student protesters calling for education reform on March 3 defied an order to disperse in a tense stand-off with police near a monastery in central Myanmar.
Some 200 young activists - many sporting bandanas with the fighting peacock symbol of student protest - remained encircled by police armed with sticks who have trapped them outside a monastery compound in the town of Letpadan since March 2.
Authorities have vowed to halt the activists' planned march to the nation's main city Yangon, some 130 kilometres further south and the scene of previous major student-led demonstrations.
“The police are still blocking our way. We will not move from here until we get our demands,” student leader Ko Min Thwe Thit told AFP.
Students have rallied for months over a controversial education bill that they say is undemocratic. They have collected support from ordinary people and monks in their march, which began in the central city of Mandalay in January.
They are calling for changes including decentralising the education system, giving students the right to form unions and teaching in ethnic minority languages.
Myanmar's government has offered talks and parliament is currently considering potential changes to the legislation.
But authorities have warned the protesters against trying to hold rallies in Yangon.
Student activism is a potent political force in Myanmar with young campaigners at the forefront of several major uprisings, including a mass 1988 demonstration that was ended by a bloody military assault under the former junta.
The student group has been camped at the monastery since suspending its march last week after negotiations with the government.
The rallies, which initially began in November before flaring again this year, have so far taken place without permission in the country, where illegal protests are often met with arrests.
Myanmar's quasi-civilian government has undertaken a wide range of reforms since replacing military rule in 2011, ending the country's decades of isolation.
But rights groups and opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have raised concerns that reforms are stalling.