YANGON (AFP) - Security forces attacked and detained around eight Myanmar activists protesting in downtown Yangon, campaigners said Thursday, in a surge in tension over spreading student rallies calling for education reforms in the former junta-run nation.
Dozens of demonstrators were sent scattering after they were set upon by uniformed police officers backed by plain clothes men wearing red armbands who attacked the group with batons, according to witnesses and campaigners.
"We contacted one activist leader while he was being taken away in a vehicle. He told us that the protesters were beaten and arrested," Zaw Min, of the 88 Generation democracy campaign group, told AFP.
Pictures of a violent baton charge were shared widely on social media soon after the attack, one showing uniformed officers apparently lashing out at a female demonstrator.
The group of about 50 protesters had gathered in the heart of Yangon, Myanmar's main commercial hub, in solidarity with a student demonstration in the central town of Letpadan, where around 200 activists have been corralled for three days by riot police.
Authorities have expressed determination to stop that group from continuing their planned march to Yangon, the site of several mass student demonstrations in Myanmar's modern history that have convulsed the country.
Until now the authorities had appeared reluctant to take forceful action against the months-long student protests, despite the activists holding their demonstrations without permission.
Tensions have risen since Tuesday when students ignored a deadline from the authorities to disperse and give up plans of marching to Yangon, some 130km further south.
A police officer at the scene confirmed to AFP that seven activists had been arrested.
"No one was injured," he said, asking not to be named.