RANGOON — Hundreds of students protesting a controversial education law have suspended their demonstration and will give the Burmese government 60 days to respond to their demands, with the student activists threatening to turn out in even greater numbers if they don’t hear from education officials in that time. More than 300 representatives from students’ organizations across the country began their four-day protest against the legislation on Friday. “Starting today and for the next 60 days, if the government and responsible persons will not come and negotiate with students, we will increase our protest strength,” read a statement released by the students on Monday. Police wagons were parked on Monday near the monastery in Rangoon’s Thingangyun Township where the protestors spent the night, but authorities did not interfere as the students marched to Maha Bandoola Park. Phyo Phyo Aung, a protest leader, said the decision to pause the protest marked a shift in tactics. “During these 60 days, we will go to the rural areas and persuade the public and students to join the boycott,” she said. “If the government doesn’t negotiate and respond to us, we will hold a nationwide protest.” Organizations including the University Teachers’ Association (UTA) and the 88 Generation & New Generation Society (Malaysia) have issued statements in support of the students’ demands, and urged the government to sit down at the negotiating table with the students and refrain from forcibly clearing the protest. Mee Mee, a member of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, told The Irrawaddy that she attended the protest to support the student activists. “The students are protesting the law because the government forced the bill to be approved without [considering] the desires of the students,” she said. [irrawaddy_gallery] On Sunday, the director general of the Department of Higher Education (Lower Myanmar), Zaw Htay, and a group of university professors met with a 15-member Democracy Education Initiative Committee set up last week to represent the protesting students’ interests. Nanda Sit Aung, another protest organizers, told The Irrawaddy: “They told us to negotiate the rules and regulations of the education bill, but we want to change the mother law of the national education bill and we didn’t reach an agreement.” Protestors say the current law would fail to raise education standards in Burma, restrict local autonomy in favor of centralized government control of education institutions and prevent the official recognition of student unions. The National Education Law was passed by Parliament in July and sent back to the floor by President Thein Sein, who suggested 25 amendments to the legislation. Despite strong criticism from education activists, Parliament passed the Education Law in September, approving 19 of the president’s amendments and rejecting six. In the coming months, Parliament will discuss a number of so-called “sectoral laws” that will supplement the Education Law and outline further education reform details.
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