LETPADAN — Police formed a human chain across a road leading to Burma’s biggest city on Wednesday, telling hundreds of student protesters that authorities would “take action” unless they dispersed.
The standoff in front of a monastery in Letpadan, 140 kilometers (90 miles) from Rangoon, entered its third day, with no sign either side was ready to back down. Students—determined to march to Rangoon to push demands for education reform—responded defiantly shouting “This is our cause! We will win!”
The demonstrators—who have been rallying for more than a month and gaining public sympathy—want the government to scrap a new education law that they say curbs academic freedom.
The law, passed by Parliament in September, puts all decisions about policy and curriculum in the hands of a group largely made up of government ministers. Students say the law undermines the autonomy of universities, which are still struggling to recover after clampdowns on academic independence and freedom during years of dictatorship.
Police have repeatedly warned that they will take action to “restore law and order” if the protesters try to bring their rally to Rangoon. But some town residents have stood behind the students, offering encouragement.
Burma began moving from a half-century of military rule toward democracy in 2011, but critics say the reforms that marked President Thein Sein’s early days in office have either stalled or the government has been retreating from them.
The threat of an expanded protest is sensitive in Burma, in part because students were at the forefront of pro-democracy protests in 1988 that were crushed in a bloody military crackdown.