RANGOON — Tension between police and student demonstrators are inching toward a tipping point as a core group of activists has announced that they will go on hunger strike and continue a sit-in in central Burma after authorities corralled them to prevent their advance on Tuesday morning. About 170 student demonstrators and scores of supporters are under pressure to leave Letpadan, Bago Division, and return to their homes, though student leaders said they are being physically blocked by police. The group attempted to leave Aung Myay Baik Mann Monastery and march to Tharyarwaddy, also in Bago Division, at around 9am on Tuesday morning. From there, the students intended to continue to Rangoon by car, where they would hold a final protest before disbanding and returning home, according to a coordinator, Ye Yint Kyaw of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions. The group was thwarted just outside the monastery by hundreds officers. One young woman was reportedly hit by a police baton as the demonstrators attempted to breach the blockade around noon, but she sustained no injuries. Bago Security and Border Affairs Minister Col. Thet Htun met with some student leaders this afternoon to try to defuse the situation. Rows of police surrounded the halted demonstrators as they held a sit-in outside the monastery, forming a complete blockade which prevented students from leaving. Local supporters have since surrounded the police. [irrawaddy_gallery] Student activist Thiha Win Tin told The Irrawaddy that there are now several “levels” of blockades. “Students are being blocked by the police. The public surrounded the police. So more police and trucks arrived to surround the public,” he said, adding that the local abbots have vowed to join the students’ hunger strike if the blockades are not dismantled. Word of the tense confrontation spread quickly to other parts of the country, and supporters mobilized in Mandalay, Monywa and Rangoon to demand a peaceful solution. In Mandalay, about three dozen student activists, 88 Generation Peace and Open Society representatives and parents of protesting students are gathered in front of City Hall to ask the Burmese government not to launch a violent crackdown on the student protest in Letpadan. They were met with police deployment of around 100 officers, who blocked the road to City Hall and warned the activists and parents to disperse or face arrest for holding an authorized protest. Mandalay Division Minister of Border Affairs Aung Kyaw Moe and the Mandalay District police chief were on the scene to negotiate with the parents and activists, and the crowd was quickly dispersed. A similar crowd gathered in downtown Rangoon’s Mahabandoola Park at 4pm, holding signs reading “don’t crack down on Students” and “stop violence right now.” Activist Susanna Hla Hla Soe, director of the Karen Women’s Action Group, was among the demonstrators. “We are parents,” she told The Irrawaddy, “for the future of students and children, we stand together.” The impromptu assembly was not sanctioned by local authorities, and while police presence was reported there have been no arrests at the site at time of writing. The Letpadan demonstrators are the remaining core of a protest movement that began in November 2014 in opposition to a new National Education Law. The group began a 400-mile march from Mandalay to Rangoon against the controversial National Education Law on Jan. 20. While the demonstrators have won some concessions from government, including having an amended bill submitted to parliament for consideration, they have vowed to continue the movement pending legal amendments. Additional reporting contributed by Zarni Mann in Mandalay and Nobel Zaw in Rangoon.
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