Students in Irrawaddy Prepare to Join Education Protests

By Salai Thant Zin 28 January 2015

Amid a tense standoff between authorities and a crowd of people demonstrating against Burma’s new National Education Bill, a students’ group in Irrawaddy Division has announced that it will show solidarity by setting off on a separate march to Rangoon.

Organizers told The Irrawaddy that three columns of university students will set out from Pathein, Maubin and Hinthada townships in Irrawaddy Division on Jan. 30, later converging on the road into Rangoon.

Aung Aung Kyaw, a coordinator and former member of the All Burma Federation of Students’ Unions (ABFSU), said that preparatory meetings are underway and he is expecting a large turnout.

“We are preparing to leave Pathein on the 30th of this month, and then we’ll march to Rangoon,” he said, adding that students and teachers will be joined by about 105 other participants carrying the red fighting peacock flags that have become symbolic of the movement.

State media reported on Tuesday that some students currently marching from Mandalay to Rangoon may face charges for violating the State Flag Law after hoisting the pennant at Myingyan College on Monday afternoon.

The Mandalay marchers, who took to road one week ago, encountered push-back from police as they approached Taung Tha in central Burma. About 100 police greeted the demonstrators with riot gear and two fire engines, but they were eventually allowed to pass the barricade and enter the town.

Their Irrawaddy counterparts said that they had not faced pressure from local authorities over their planned activities, but they are prepared to stage a sit-in if they are intercepted and blocked.

“We’re mobilizing students across Irrawaddy Division now and networking among the groups,” said organizer Kyaw Nanda. “So far, authorities have not stopped our activities.”

His collaborator Aung Aung Kyaw added that the group “would stage a sit-in along the way if the government stopped our march.”

Police in Pathein told The Irrawaddy they are aware that the march is being planned but that organizers have not yet sought permission.

The march will be attended by university students from Pathein, Kangyidaung, Myaungmya, Labutta, Kyonepyaw and Yeykyi. Delegates from the Moulemein, Dawei and Arakan state chapters of the ABFSU will also attend.

The Irrawaddy student protests will be the latest in a string of demonstrations against the new National Education Law, demanding that it be amended to allow for decentralized control, the establishment of independent student unions, increased education spending and inclusive consultations about education reform.