Official inquiry to be held into protest crackdown

11 March 2015
Official inquiry to be held into protest crackdown
Policemen holding shields as they block the road in front of Yangon City Hall after a crackdown on a students' protest demanding an amendment to National Education Bill in Yangon, Myanmar, March 5, 2015. Photo: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

Myanmar state media has announced an inquiry into a Yangon protest crackdown, the first of two recent violent confrontations with student demonstrators, which sparked international alarm and raised fears of a return to junta-era repression.
Both protests, which demanded reforms in Myanmar's controversial education law were spearheaded by students, who have long been at the forefront of political action in the former military-run nation's turbulent history.
According to the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper the investigation will examine whether security forces acted properly in dispersing the protesters who gathered on March 5 in Yangon.
The official statement came a day after baton-wielding police beat student activists and arrested 127 people at a second student protest site in the central town of Letpadan.
The US, European Union and Britain have all raised concerns over the arrests and the use of force to break up peaceful rallies.
In chaotic scenes yesterday, police armed with batons lashed out at students and activists in Letpadan, ending more than a week of stalemate at the protest site where some 150 demonstrators including several monks had been confined by security forces trying to prevent their planned march south to Yangon.
The crackdowns sparked outrage among rights groups and activists, who accused the government of using excessive and aggressive tactics, raising particular fears over the involvement of men in plain clothes in Yangon on March 5.
According to witnesses, the men, wearing red armbands who were thought to have been deputised civilians, were seen beating protesters alongside police.
Civilians working alongside security forces to break up protests were a feared feature of life under military rule.
State media said the inquiry into the recent violence would assess whether the authorities responsible acted in line with legal procedures, while also seeking measures to prevent such cases in the future.
It said the findings would be submitted to the president by March 31.
Myanmar's quasi-civilian government, which replaced outright military rule in 2011, has ushered in a number of major reforms that have lured foreign investment back into the nation.
But with a landmark election expected later this year, observers fear democratic reforms are stalling.
The election will be the first since the semi-civilian government took power in 2011 after 49 years of military rule.