US condemns crackdown on Letpadan student rally

11 March 2015
US condemns crackdown on Letpadan student rally
Student protesters jostle with police at barricades set up by police at the students protest site in Letpadan, Bago Region on March 10, 2015. Photo: Thet Ko/Mizzima

The United States condemned a violent police crackdown on a student rally in Myanmar on March 10, urging the government to respect the right to assembly.
Washington, which has backed Myanmar’s democratic moves as it seeks to emerge from a repressive, authoritarian past, said it was "deeply concerned" by the violence that saw baton-wielding police disperse the protesters and arrest 127 of them.
"We are deeply concerned by reports of violence by police and other individuals against protesters," said State Department spokeswoman Ms Jen Psaki.
"We are deeply concerned by the reports of arrests."
The crackdown in the central town of Letpadan comes just days after authorities used violence to end a supporting rally in Yangon, prompting condemnation from rights campaigners. The students were calling for education reforms.
"We urge the government of Burma to respect the right of protesters to assemble peacefully as a means of expressing their views," Ms Psaki added. 
"Freedom of assembly is an important component of any democratic society. We condemn the use of force taken against peaceful protesters."
The European Union also criticized Myanmar, saying it "deeply regrets" the crackdown.
A general election scheduled for the end of this year is seen by many as a measure of the country's democratic progress.
The United States, which had adopted one of the harshest stances toward the Myanmar junta, made huge leaps toward Myanmar since it announced its historic democratization in 2011.
President Barack Obama lifted most of the sanctions the US had levied against Myanmar, traveled there twice and hosted President Thein Sein at the White House.