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A column of students marching from Mandalay to Rangoon, who have been spearheading widespread protests in aid of education reforms, visited a university to rally more support as they headed to the village of Thityargauk in Magwe Division.
The protestors, who had been rallying in the region’s capital on Wednesday morning, visited the Magwe Computer University. There they talked to students about their demands to the government, and issues surrounding the controversial National Education Law. The group apparently had permission for the visit from the university’s rector.
They later marched away from the town towards Thityargauk where the group planned to stay for the night. They briefly stopped to salute the statues of revolutionary peasant Saya San and worker leader Thakhin Pho Hla Gyi – known for leading struggles against the British colonial government – at the Yin Creek Bridge.
Proposed talks between student leaders and government officials – scheduled to discuss the National Education Law in response to student protests – stalled earlier this week. Students’ spokesperson Dr Thein Lwin told DVB that the government unilaterally suspended the talks after the student groups attempted to bring assistants into the meeting. Officials reportedly brought their own note-takers and other supporters.
Thein Lwin denied claims from by the Ministry of Information that the talks were cancelled because the students did not turn up. “That it is not true,” he said. “We were waiting outside the meeting, but we were not allowed access.”
On Thursday morning, Irrawaddy Division Chief Minister Thein Aung met with the parents of students from a different protest column originating in Bassein, officially known as Pathein. Thein Aung urged them to persuade their children to stop protesting.
“The minister told us to convince our children to return home. He pledged a guarantee for their safety in Irrawaddy Division, saying that “he will ensure no student blood is shed.”
When the Irrawaddy protest column arrived in the town of Kyanggon on Wednesday evening, it was greeted by more than 3,000 residents.
Students, widely supported by teachers and academics, have lambasted the recently approved National Education Law, complaining that it centralises decision-making, and does not allow for the forming of teachers’ or students’ unions. They are also calling for the annual budget for education and schooling to be significantly increased.
The National Education Law was approved by the union parliament on 30 September amid objections that led to several public protests around the country.
In November, the All Burma Federation of Student Unions issued a 60-day deadline for the parliament to negotiate amendments of the law. These most recent protests began as the deadline passed.