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(BRUSSELS) – The EU criticised Myanmar on Tuesday after baton-wielding police dispersed a student rally and arrested dozens of protesters in a crackdown which has raised fears of a return to junta-era repression.
The 28-nation bloc also defended its 2013 decision to launch a 10-million-euro programme to train Myanmar police in dealing with demonstrations, saying it was part of efforts to support reform.
“The European Union is following with concern recent clashes in relation to ongoing protests and deeply regrets the use of force against peaceful demonstrators,” a spokeswoman said in an email to AFP.
Myanmar police carted away two truckloads of protesters after violently breaking up the rally in the central town of Letpadan, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, and police said 127 were arrested.
The crackdown comes just days after authorities used violence to end a rally in support of the students in the commercial hub of Yangon, prompting condemnation from rights campaigners.
The EU said the clashes showed the need for further reform by Myanmar’s military-dominated government but insisted that it was right to launch the training programme for riot police.
“Since the beginning of the EU project, progress has been made,” the spokeswoman said.
“When it comes to EU-trained police units, a difference in approach has been acknowledged, including by human rights organisations.
“Change, however, does not happen overnight, it requires a shift in the mindset and recent events confirm the necessity of more and continued reform.”
The EU “remains committed to supporting positive change in Myanmar in general — and the important process of reforming the police in particular”, the spokeswoman added.