LETPADAN, Myanmar (AP) — Police chased down student protesters and dragged them onto trucks Friday in Myanmar's third such crackdown on public demonstrations in as many days, drawing criticism from the United States.
Authorities went after five students after they broke off from 200 other demonstrators locked in a standoff at a Letpadan monastery, an Associated Press photographer and other witnesses said.
The demonstrators oppose a new education law and want to march to the country's main city, Yangon, 140 kilometers (90 miles) south of Letpadan, but authorities have blocked roads and warned students not to go ahead.
Authorities on Friday released eight students and activists detained a day earlier at a demonstration against the law in Yangon, activists said. Police this week down on factory workers rallying for higher pay and better working conditions in an industrial zone.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. was concerned by reports of arrests and use of force against peaceful protesters. "Such actions are not in keeping with Burma's efforts to transition to full democracy," she told reporters in Washington.
Yangon was the scene of massive pro-democracy uprisings in 1988 that spread through the country, eventually leading to the collapse of the 26-year Socialist military regime. The junta that took its place ceded power four years ago, a move that has revived Myanmar's ties with the West.
But many of the early reforms implemented since President Thein Sein's nominally civilian government took office in 2011 have stalled or started rolling back, with hundreds of people arrested for staging public rallies and the jailing of several journalists.
The five people detained Friday are among hundreds who have been protesting against the education law in different cities for more than a month, gaining public sympathy along the way.
They want the government to scrap a law that puts all decisions about education policy and curriculum in the hands of a group largely made up of government ministers, which critics say undermines the autonomy of universities.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.