Yangon: Families of scores of arrested Myanmar activists on Wednesday sought news of their loved ones who were detained by police in a violent student protest crackdown, as fears grow of a return to junta-era repression.
Student-led rallies calling for education reform have twice been brutally suppressed in recent days, sparking international concern and drawing fierce criticism from Aung San Suu Kyi`s opposition party, which said the tactics echoed those used under the former military government.
In chaotic scenes on Tuesday, police armed with batons lashed out at young students and activists in the central town of Letpadan, arresting 127 people and carting them off to the cells by the truckload.
Families of those arrested said they were urgently seeking news of their relatives on Wednesday.
"I`m worried about him because he is injured," said Khin Moe Moe of her 26-year-old son, Win Htal Kaung Myat, a teacher and member of Suu Kyi`s National League for Democracy (NLD).
"I want to know where he is and what I can do to help him," she told AFP.
Students have long been at the forefront of political action in the former military-run nation`s turbulent history, leading mass protests in 1988 that saw the rise of Suu Kyi and her party but which were brutally quashed by the military.
The NLD on Wednesday condemned the latest clampdowns as illegal.
"No law allows these types of beatings or crackdowns. No law allows any violence," said NLD spokesman Nyan Win, himself a lawyer.
"What is happening nowadays is not in-line with the process of a democratic government. It is like the procedures under military rule," he told AFP.He raised particular concern about the use of men in plain clothes when police violently broke up a protests in Yangon on March 5, which were held in solidarity for those rallying at Letpadan.
Myanmar on Wednesday announced an inquiry into "whether security forces acted properly in dispersing the protesters" who gathered downtown on March 5 in the nation`s commercial hub, according to the Global New Light of Myanmar.
It will assess "whether the authorities responsible acted in-line with legal procedures, while also seeking measures to prevent such cases in the future," state media said Wednesday.
Its findings will be submitted to the president by March 31.
Witnesses to the Yangon crackdown saw men wearing red armbands, thought to be deputised civilians, beating protesters alongside police.
Mobs of civilians working alongside security forces to break up protests were a feared feature of life under military rule.
The European Union, which has run programmes to train Myanmar`s decrepit police force, issued a statement voicing concern at the use of force to break up the rallies, while the United States and Britain also expressed alarm.
Myanmar`s quasi-civilian government, which replaced outright military rule in 2011, has ushered in a number of major reforms that have lured foreign investment back into the isolated nation.
But observers fear democratic reforms are stalling as the country lurches towards a landmark election later this year.
Authorities had corralled some 150 demonstrators -- including several monks -- into an area near a monastery in Letpadan early last week in an effort to prevent them from continuing a planned march to Yangon.
The students have rallied for months against education legislation, calling for changes to the new law including decentralising the school system, giving students the right to form unions and teaching in ethnic minority languages.
Talks between the government and the young activists had led to a rethink of the legislation by parliament, which is currently debating proposed changes.
But students pulled out of the discussions last week because of police efforts to stop the Letpadan activists from going to Yangon.