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YANGON, Myanmar – After weeks of escalating tensions, Myanmar police cracked down on students who have taken to the streets to protest a new education bill, which they say restricts academic freedom. Authorities said more than 100 people have been arrested as police on Tuesday pummeled the protesters with batons and dragged them into trucks. Here's an overview of demonstrators, their demands and why security forces responded so brutally:
WHY STUDENTS ARE PROTESTING
Students from several parts of Myanmar started marching to the biggest city, Yangon, earlier this year to protest a law passed in parliament that puts all decisions about education policy and curriculum in the hands of a group largely made up of government ministers.
The law prohibits student involvement in politics, bans students from forming unions and ignores calls for local languages to be used in instruction in ethnic states. Students say it restricts their academic freedom and have tried to seek assurances that colleges and universities will be free of the controls that crippled higher education in the past.
In calling for scrapping of the law, the youth have gained public sympathy, with monks and other activists joining them.
BUMPY ROAD TO DEMOCRACY
Clampdowns this month have been reminiscent of Myanmar's dark days of authoritarian rule. In one case, riot police were backed by alleged members of the infamous Swan Arr Shin auxiliaries — the same group of hired thugs that went after Buddhist monk-led protesters in Yangon in 2007.
The violence adds to worries that reforms implemented since the country started moving toward democracy in 2011 have stalled or gone into reverse. Though hundreds of junta-era political prisoners have been released, protesters continue to be rounded up and thrown in jail for peacefully expressing their views. More than 120 people were arrested Tuesday, half of them students.
CRACKDOWNS, PRESENT AND PAST
Hundreds of police chased down small groups of students, monks and journalists Tuesday after they tried to push through barriers blocking the road in Letpadan that led to Yangon.
While there were no reported deaths, the violence raises concerns about backslides ahead of elections later this year. A European Union delegation that has been training Myanmar's police in crowd control issued a statement expressing deep concern over the use of force against protesters and calling for a formal investigation.
The most violent attack under the new government occurred in 2012, when security forces used white phosphorous on villagers and monks protesting a copper mine in the town of Monywa, wounding more than 100.
In 1988, an estimated 3,000 people were killed during pro-democracy protests in Yangon and other parts of the country.
During the 2007 "Saffron Revolution," when thousands of monks led a series of protests against the lifting of fuel subsidies, between 10 and 30 people died.