TIME France

Chaos at French Port as Migrants Continue to Storm Trucks Headed for the U.K.

A strike has shut the port, causing long tailbacks of vehicles that migrants are trying to board, at times forcibly

In chaotic scenes over the past week, hundreds of migrants in the northern French port of Calais have been trying to jump onto trucks bound for the U.K.

The migrants, most of whom had fled war, persecution and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, took advantage of a strike by French MyFerryLink workers on Tuesday. The striking workers forced the port and the Channel Tunnel, which links France to the U.K., to close, causing long tailbacks of trucks on highways around Calais.

Footage shows migrants desperately trying to board the vehicles, sometimes jumping onto moving trucks, breaking locks or attempting to hold onto the underside of the carriages.

“Drivers were unable to open their windows or leave their vehicles for fear of either being threatened or would-be stowaways getting on board,” Don Armour, the Freight Transport Association’s international manager, told the Guardian.

There are believed to be about 3,000 migrants living in a squalid makeshift camp near Calais. They are determined to reach the U.K., where they say they’ll have the chance of a better life.

On Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron called the scenes in Calais “totally unacceptable” and vowed to work more closely with French authorities. U.K. ministers are considering sending extra border-control officials, sniffer-dog teams and equipment to strengthen fences around the port and rail crossings.

But several of the city’s politicians have accused the British government of not doing enough to calm the situation. Philippe Mignonet, the deputy mayor of Calais, said the city had been “sacrificed” by the British and Europe, reports the Guardian.

The chaos in Calais comes as European Union leaders struggle to decide what to do with huge waves of migrants entering Europe via risky sea journeys across the Mediterranean.

At heated talks in Brussels on Thursday night, E.U. leaders agreed to relocate 40,000 migrants who have arrived in Italy and Greece, plus a further 20,000 currently in camps outside the E.U., to member states over the next two years, reports the BBC.

But there would not be mandatory quotas for taking in refugees, the leaders said.

 

TIME Greece

Eurozone Leaders Set Weekend Deadline For Greece

Kostas Tsironis—Bloomberg/Getty Images A protester holds a Greek and a European Union (EU) flag during a pro-European Union demonstration in Athens, Greece, on Monday, June 22, 2015

"Leaders expect the eurogroup to conclude this process at their meeting on Saturday"

(BRUSSELS) — European leaders told finance ministers from the euro countries to conclude a debt financing agreement with Greece over the weekend, just days before Athens has to meet a crucial repayment deadline that carries the risk of bankruptcy and euro-exit.

A deal on a draconian austerity package is vital for creditors to unfreeze 7.2 billion euros (8.1 billion dollars) in bailout money that would get Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras off the hook for the time being.

“Leaders expect the eurogroup to conclude this process at their meeting on Saturday,” EU President Donald Tusk said early Friday, after chairing a summit in Brussels.

Leaders of the 19 euro nations, he said, would not meet in Greece again until a deal is done.

Earlier on Thursday, a meeting of eurozone finance ministers broke up over disagreement on the Greek rescue package, intensifying doubts about whether Athens can pay the International Monetary Fund debts worth 1.6 billion euros ($1.8 billion) next Tuesday.

“European history is full of disagreements, negotiations and at the end, compromises,” Tsipras said. “So, after the comprehensive Greek proposals, I am confident we will reach a compromise.”

Greece’s left-wing government and creditors have so far fallen short of a deal after leaders from the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission raised the stakes by putting forward a joint set of demands from Greece. Athens saw the proposals as interference in policy rather than one over what would be fiscally feasible.

“They have a different orientation. They want to drop measures that increase taxes on profitable businesses. But it’s a question of who will suffer more, and we don’t want pensioners to suffer any longer,” a Greek delegation member said, asking not to be identified because talks are ongoing.

Follow a dramatic week of talks between Tsipras and the leaders of creditor institutions, lead lender Germany expressed its doubts the loudest.

Athens had “not moved, rather moved backward,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said, arguing that the prospect of a deal “lies exclusively with those responsible in Greece.”

In Washington, the IMF said Greece would not get any extra time to make the debt repayments due next Tuesday.

“We’re expecting the payment to be made June 30,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said.

A default on its debts could eventually force Greece out of the eurozone, which would be hugely painful for the country. Some experts say it could be manageable for Europe and the world economy, but that remains unclear and any failure would likely shake global markets.

“When Greece, Europe, the eurozone is at stake, we have to know how to finish negotiations,” French President Francois Hollande said.

Tsipras is under massive pressure from Greeks themselves as the compromises suggested so far will mean more hardship for citizens already suffering the impact of past austerity measures aimed at bringing public spending into line.

Creditors are seeking a different mix of austerity measures than those proposed by Athens, making the cuts more immediate.

They include broad pension reductions, higher revenue from sales tax, and a faster elimination of tax exemptions — demands that are likely to fuel emerging dissent within the government if accepted.

Representatives from almost every Greek party were in Brussels, following developments blow by blow, to see whether they would be able to back any new deal in the Greek parliament, where a vote must pass by Monday.

Creditors have said they would consider debt relief for Greece, by improving repayment terms. But they are balking at discussing the issue now, preferring to first get Greece the loans it needs to avoid default next week.

Amid the uncertainty, Greece’s bank deposit holders have been pulling out their savings — forcing the European Central Bank to increase emergency credit to the Greek banks on a daily basis since last week.

Experts say if Greece does not reach a deal, it could have to put limits on cash withdrawals soon.

____

Derek Gatopoulos in Brussels, Elena Becatoros in Athens, Paul Wiseman in Washington and David McHugh in Frankfurt, Germany, contributed to this report.

TIME europe

European Union Comes Up With a Plan to Ease Migrant Crisis

Member states will take in 40,000 migrants currently in Italy and Greece

European Union member states will take in 40,000 migrants from the Middle East and Africa currently in Italy and Greece, according to a leaked plan that emerged Thursday.

According to a draft communiqué seen by Reuters, European leaders will enact a two-year plan for volunteer EU countries to temporarily spread a total of 40,000 migrants across multiple nations. The final statement will propose creating criteria to determine which countries will participate and how many refugees each will accept. The document stops short of creating national quotas for each country.

The agreement is intended to alleviate pressure on asylum infrastructures in Greece and Italy that are buckling under the record high volume of migration across the Mediterranean Sea. At least 153,000 people have sought refugee in Europe this year, and almost 2,000 have died making the dangerous trip.

[Reuters]

TIME Greece

Merkel Presses Greece to Deliver on Reform

Greece's bailout program expires June 30

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pressing Greece to deliver on commitments to carry out reforms, stressing before a meeting of eurozone finance ministers that she wants the country to remain in the common currency.

Merkel said in a speech to the German Parliament Thursday that Greece’s government in February “committed itself to comprehensive structural reforms. These must now be tackled with determination.”

Merkel stressed that “Germany’s efforts are directed to Greece remaining in the eurozone.” She reiterated that “where there’s a will, there’s a way — if the political leaders in Greece show this will, an agreement with the three institutions is still possible.” That was a reference to Greece’s international creditors.

Greece needs to unlock loans from its creditors before June 30, when its bailout program expires.

TIME Turkey

Here Are 3 Good Things That Happened in the World This Week

TURKEY-VOTE-RESULTS kurdish
Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images Young supporters of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) celebrate in the streets the results of the legislative election, in Diyarbakir on June 7, 2015.

Turkey, Nigeria and the E.U. all saw positive stories in a week when most of the news was depressing

Follow the news these days, and it’s hard to be an optimist. Ukraine’s ceasefire is a fiction. ISIS is capturing new ground and drawing new followers. The U.S. and China seem at odds in the South China Sea. The Greeks sometimes seem determined to stumble their way out of Europe. The list goes on. But with the real exception of Ukraine, these risks are exaggerated, and there are positive stories out there that deserve more attention. Here are three:

1. Turkey

Start with last weekend’s election results in Turkey. Not so long ago, this country was considered a major emerging market success story. That’s mainly because then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had helped unlock much more of the country’s growth potential by empowering development and entrepreneurship in the country’s Anatolian heartland. Under his leadership, per capita income tripled in a decade.

Unfortunately, Erdogan, now president, has drawn comparisons with Russia’s Putin by shifting focus from economic gain to a bid for lasting political dominance. To corner his enemies and expand his power, he has compromised the independence of Turkey’s courts, police forces, and central bank. His foreign policy has become a mix of nationalist paranoia and anti-Western resentment. He has also polarized his country.

But Turkish voters reminded us on June 7 that Turkey is not Russia, and Erdogan can’t become Putin. His Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials AKP, earned another victory, but not the supermajority Erdogan needed to rewrite Turkey’s constitution to give himself more power. In fact, for the first time in 13 years, the AKP didn’t even win a simple majority and will now have to form a coalition government.

Make no mistake: Turkey will be a mess for some time to come. Expected intensified political infighting over the next couple of years, but the big news is that there are still checks on Erdogan’s ambitions, even within his own party. It’s a step back for Erdogan–and a step forward for his country.

2. Nigeria

After years of corruption and stagnation, Africa’s largest economy needed new political energy. March’s presidential election provided exactly that. After 16 years of one-party rule following the country’s shift from military control to democracy in 1999, opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari won a clear victory and a strong mandate. The incumbent accepted defeat, and power changed hands peacefully. That’s crucial in a country where stability depends on a delicate political balance between Christians in the south, Muslims in the north and various ethnic groups and provincial factions.

With majorities for his APC party in parliament and governorships, Buhari brings energy for reform. A capable economic policy team is now settling into place. A badly needed revitalization of the oil sector is underway. Government spending restraint will earn greater investor confidence in Nigeria’s enormous potential. Buhari, a Muslim and former military commander, will more aggressively target Boko Haram, Muslim militants based in the country’s northeast, than his predecessor did.

3. Europe

Even in Europe, despite intense media focus on the risks of Grexit and Brexit—Greek and British exists from the E.U., respectively—there is cause for optimism. Last week, the Pew Research Center released a report detailing evidence of a revival of public faith in the broader European project. Pew surveyed 6,028 people in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK, countries that make up 70% of the EU population and provide 74% of its GDP. Though many of those questioned still say their economies are in rotten shape and won’t quickly return to pre-crisis levels, they do sense improvement—and credit the European Union for it. Despite the rise of Euro-skeptic parties like Spain’s Podemos, Britain’s UK Independence Party and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland, public support for the EU within these member states has actually risen since 2013. In Britain, support for exit from the EU trails support for continued membership by 55 to 36 percent. Interestingly, majorities in Spain (70%), Britain (66%), Italy (58%), and Germany (50%) say the rise of “non-traditional” parties is a “good thing,” perhaps because they provide a useful check on the power of European institutions.

There’s no doubt that Ukraine’s conflict will deepen, tensions with Russia will rise further, Greece has a long way to go and the Middle East will burn hotter for longer. But add reform momentum in India, Italy, and Mexico, and there are still plenty of good news stories beyond the headlines.

Bremmer is a foreign affairs columnist and editor-at-large at TIME. He is the president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy, and a Global Research Professor at New York University. His most recent book is Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World

TIME energy

Could Iran Play a Part in E.U. Energy Security?

iranian-flag
Getty Images

As Europe looks for alternatives to Russian gas, Iran could provide Europe "new routes"

Azerbaijan’s energy minister, Natig Aliyev, says the gas pipeline originating in his country can also transport fuel to Europe through the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) from Iran and other neighboring nations in both the Middle East and Central Asia.

“Gas from Turkmenistan, Iran, Iraq, as well as from Israel and Cyprus, can be connected to the Southern Gas Corridor,” Aliyev told the Caspian Oil & Gas Conference in Baku on June 3. “The extensive work done by Azerbaijan stands behind all of this.”

The minister said that as Europe is looking for alternatives to Russian gas, its attention is being drawn increasingly to Azerbaijan because it could provide “a new source of energy for Europe, and it offers Europe new routes.”

Azerbaijan could become a major source of energy for the West, Aliyev said, given that it produced 42 million tons of oil and 29 billion cubic meters of gas in 2014. Looking to the future, he said, his country intends to maintain that level of oil output, or even increase it to 45 million tons per year, and that it plans to double its output of gas.

Aliyev pointed to Europe’s growing concern about its current reliance on gas deliveries from Russia via a pipeline that transits Ukraine. Because of political and pricing disputes between Kiev and Moscow, these deliveries have been briefly interrupted three times in the past nine years. “Europe imports about 90 percent of oil, 60 percent of gas and 42 percent of coal,” he said.

TANAP would run west from Baku, through Turkey, then the Balkans and connect with the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which finally would deliver the gas to Italy and on to the rest of Europe. Already Turkmenistan, on the other side of the Caspian Sea from Azerbaijan, has expressed interest in joining TANAP, and Aliyev said Iran, with its huge energy resources, also would be a prime candidate.

“Iran’s cooperation with the world was always good,” Zanganeh said at the time, “but they were unkind to us. However now they are returning to the cooperation.” Besides, he said, Iran has more energy reserves than it can consume domestically.

And on June 3, addressing Aliyev’s comments, Mohsen Pakaein, Iran’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, said his government was considering the invitation to join TANAP as part of Tehran’s plans to establish a strong presence on the world’s gas market.

Construction already has begun on TANAP, while a rival pipeline through Turkey, sponsored by Russia, is still in the planning stages. Whichever of these two conduits is completed would replace Russia’s South Stream pipeline to Europe, a project that was scuttled in late 2014 because of an EU rule that forbids one entity from owning both the pipeline and the gas it carries.

The 1,100-mile-long TANAP is expected to begin delivering natural gas by 2020. The initial volume of fuel will be about 16 billion cubic meters per year, increasing eventually to 31 billion cubic meters per year.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

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TIME energy

E.U. Needs to Invest 400 Billion Euros By 2020 to Keep Renewables on Track

Flags of the European Union seen in front of the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium on March 3, 2014.
Michael Gottschalk—Getty Images Flags of the European Union seen in front of the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium on March 3, 2014.

Development of the renewable projects will be come at a cost

Smart grids are back in vogue. Or at least getting some mainstream media attention thanks to European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, who recently declared, “smart grids should become Europe’s shale gas.” Whether Europe’s electric market is on a path comparable to the U.S. shale revolution remains to be seen but there is no doubt that improvements in both smart grid and storage technology are set to revolutionize electric markets across the globe. More importantly, they have the potential to transform renewable energy’s role within them.

Smart grid technology is not particularly new. But policies promoting growth in renewable energy and electric vehicles, coupled with a greater consumer engagement with daily energy use is making them all the more important.

National and state level targets for renewable deployment and emissions reductions have added to the sense of urgency. Technological improvements across the power sector’s value chain will be critical to achieving those goals.

The potential gains are enormous. Smart grids promise many things, including increased reliability, efficiency and security, each of which is critical for integrating renewable energy. Not to mention that better management of peak load, reduced outages, and increased automation should lower energy costs for consumers.

The power sector is becoming increasingly complex in markets like the E.U. and U.S., with traditional generation, transmission and distribution value chains now sharing the system with two-way power flows from distributed generation, such as rooftop solar.

This is part of a long term trend. In BP’s latest Energy Outlook 2035, the company projects North American production of renewable production to increase by 200% by 2035. In the E.U., BP estimates renewable energy production will grow by close to 140%.

But as the Department of Energy notes in its Quadrennial Energy Review, released last week:

Innovative technologies and services are being introduced to the system at an unprecedented rate—often increasing efficiency, improving reliability, and empowering customers, but also injecting uncertainty into grid operations, traditional regulatory structures, and utility business models. Modernizing the grid will require that these challenges be addressed.

The other side of the equation is energy storage, which until now has been a major barrier to renewable deployment. There are a variety of storage systems out there, including batteries, pumped hydro storage, thermal storage, hydrogen storage, and flywheels, among others. The largest share of storage in the United States is pumped hydro storage with 42 plants totally 22 GW of installed capacity. An additional 37 GW are currently under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

This works well for hydropower but the issue is a little more complicated for intermittent resources such as solar and wind, which struggle to respond to the volatility of consumer demand and the variability of the weather. Both the U.S. and E.U. have several pilot projects in place. Germany launched Europe’s largest battery plant – 5 MW – last year.

It would be foolish to conclude that the only barriers to an electric matrix powered by 100% renewable energy are improved storage and smart grids. There are several other factors at play, including transmission upgrades, resource potential, and development of the renewable projects. All of this is expensive. The European Commission stated that it would need 400 billion euros in public and private funding to upgrade the transmission and distribution infrastructure by 2020. This would not be offset by the potential 100 billion in estimated savings as a result.

And then there is politics. In the U.S., energy policy has become part of the partisan game. The Wall Street Journal recently published two op-eds (one by Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell; the other by Kenneth Hill, director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority) calling for states to oppose the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Unsurprisingly, this set off a fierce debate. The details are less pertinent than the fact that it underscores the highly charged atmosphere and seemingly insurmountable political hurdle when it comes to renewable energy in the U.S.

Still, there is promise at the state level. California has set a goal of 1.3GW in energy storage capacity by 2020.

Moreover, politics aside, the United States is still regarded as the leader in research and development in smart grid and storage technology, counting multiple test sites across the country.

Overall, there is much to be optimistic about.

Innovation is driving new solutions to the energy storage problem, and increased efficiency and scale is slowly driving down costs. Politically, at least in the broad sense, there is a positive trend towards cleaner energy targets and the next few years could be truly transformative.

The combination of favorable policy and advances in technology will eventually overcome the greatest hurdles to renewable deployment. It may happen sooner than we think.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

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TIME Behind the Photos

How Photographers Are Trying to Put a Face on Europe’s Migrant Crisis

"I wanted to show that behind each migrant there’s a person”

European leaders are grappling with what’s being called one of the worst migrant and refugee crises in two generations. On Thursday, in a hastily formed summit in Brussels called after an estimated 800 people died in a capsizing off Libya while en route to Europe, leaders pledged new support to cap the rising death toll in the Mediterranean. But aid organizations and humanitarian officials said Europe is still “lagging far behind” of what’s realistically needed to ease the tragedy.

The crisis along the Mediterranean’s coastlines, from Libya to Morocco and Greece to Italy, is not new. Photographers have worked over the last decade to raise awareness as conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa have displaced millions. Last June, one image crystallized the scale of this movement. Shot by Italian photographer Massimo Sestini aboard a helicopter taking part in Mare Nostrum, an Italian-led search and rescue operation largely funded by the European Union and abandoned late last year, it showed one boat with hundreds of people looking up, waving their arms. “You could see their desperation,” Sestini said last year. “And, concurrently, their happiness at being saved.”

The photograph, which TIME named one of the top 10 images of 2014, went on to win a World Press Photo award, but it told only one part of a much larger story.

“The only way to really tell the story is to spend time with them in their home countries, see how they live, learn why they leave and then just go with them on their way,” says Daniel Etter, a German photographer, who has documented migrants in northern Africa and across Europe. He called that “almost impossible” to do. Security risks, travel obstacles and financial barriers get in the way, leaving most photographers unable to build the kind of all-encompassing narrative that could help people understand the true nature of the crisis.

Some photographers have attempted to piece together the stories of migrants who risk their lives on these journeys. Alixandra Fazzina, a photographer with Noor, followed Somali migrants’ arduous trip across the Gulf of Aden in search of a better future in her book A Million Shillings, published in 2010. One in 20 who attempted the crossing lost their lives, their bodies washing up on Yemen’s shore.

She wanted to go deeper, she says, than the “small paragraph you find in a newspaper detailing the number of people that have died… I wanted to find out why they were making the journey. I wanted to find out why these people were willing to put their lives into the hands of smugglers and traffickers? Why would somebody do that?”

Olivier Jobard, a French photographer who followed a Cameroonian man’s trek to France, seeks similar answers. “What’s bothering me when we’re talking about immigration is that we often associate these people with ghosts and shadows,” he says. “They are not human in our minds.”

Italian photographer Alessandro Penso, who has been following migrants around Europe, focusing on hotspots like Greece, Italy and Malta, says he seeks moments of spontaneity to expose the humanity of his subjects.”There are simple gestures and habits in daily life that, as banal as they can seem to our eyes, hide the simple truth that we are all humans and vulnerable.”

Humanizing the people making these dangerous and harrowing journeys is important, Penso and his colleagues argue, especially when photography can lead to misconceptions. Cases in point are the widely published photographs of “hordes” of people scaling border fences in Melilla, a Spanish enclave on the edge of northern Morocco. “[When] people see these images,” says Santi Palacios, an Associated Press photographer who has taken such pictures, “they [think] we’ve been invaded.”

The people portrayed in these images are often seen shirtless and shouting, Jobard says, deliberately assuming a provocative stance. “They actually choose to behave like ‘wild animals’ in these situations—to impress or to scare people because it’s a real battle to get in [Melilla]. Of course, that also does them disservice.”

Once they’ve made it over the fence, he says, the contrast is striking. “They dress up, they take care of their appearances.” Last year, he shadowed a man named Hassan Adam from the Ivory Coast, who spent hours on one of these fences, alone. His friends had made it across to Melilla, successfully avoiding the police forces, but Adam was handcuffed, beaten and sent back to Morocco. Jobard tracked him down, months later, after he had finally made it across. “I told his story,” he says. “I wanted to show that behind each migrant there’s a person.”

For all of those who made it over the fence, or past border patrols or across the Mediterranean, there are untold thousands who lost their lives in the search for a new or better one. In October, Italian photographer Francesco Zizola dived 59 meters to photograph the wreckage of a boat that had carried some 500 people, and now rests at the bottom of the Mediterranean. He sought to convey the vastness of the tragedy that had occurred one year before, when 360 people lost their lives.

“I wanted to show to everybody that our comfortable, bourgeois homes could turn—as if in a nightmare—into that cabin with the red curtain, which I photographed inside the sunken ship,” he says. “That cabin is the tomb of our collective conscience and a memento of our indifference.”

Alice Gabriner and Mikko Takkunen edited this photo essay. With reporting by Lucia De Stefani, a contributor to TIME LightBox.

Andrew Katz is a News Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @katz. Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent.

TIME World

#TheBrief: Who Is Responsible for Migrants Who Seek Asylum?

Who is responsible for migrants seeking asylum? Italy? Or the European Union?

At least 700 refugees are feared dead after their boat capsized off the coast of Libya.

With countries in Europe closing up borders to prevent the influx of refugees fleeing war and conflict, migrants—mostly from Syria and Eritrea, but also from sub-Saharan Africa—are opting for the risky voyage across the Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy.

From Italy, they travel to countries like Spain, Greece, and the U.K.—all in search for asylum and better job opportunities.

But it could come at a price.

TIME Burma

Washington Condemns Burma’s Violent Student Crackdown

Police hit a student protester during violence in Letpadan
Soe Zeya Tun — Reuters Police assault a student protester in Letpadan, Burma on March 10, 2015.

Students and monks were peacefully calling for changes to the country's education bill

The U.S. State Department condemned Monday the brutal suppression of a protest by students and monks in the Burmese city of Letpadan.

The demonstrators were calling for educational reform in the former military state.

Video captured by local journalists shows police officers and what appear to be vigilantes using batons, fists and kicks to round up dozens of activists, only hours after student leaders and officials appeared to have reached a deal that would allow the protesters to travel to the country’s largest city, Rangoon.

“Freedom of assembly is an important component of any democratic society,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday. “We condemn the use of force taken against peaceful protesters.”

The Letpadan protest erupted just days after President Barack Obama paid homage to an earlier student movement in Burma that was crushed by the country’s ruling junta in 1988.

“Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule,” declared Obama during a soaring address commemorating the U.S. civil rights marches in Selma on Sunday.

Students from across Burma, which is formally known as Myanmar, have been participating in widespread protests for months, calling for changes to the National Education Bill. Critics of the legislation say the law severely hampers students’ abilities to form unions, forbids institutions from lecturing in local languages and overly centralizes power in government hands.

Monday’s crackdown followed a brutal episode last week, when pro-government thugs assaulted activists rallying near Rangoon’s city hall in solidarity with the students in Letpadan.

The use of vigilante groups was common during the days of military rule in Burma, and their continued existence underscores fears for the future of Burma’s democratic reforms.

“Burma’s reforms are looking increasingly shaky day by day,” stated Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in response to the crackdown on the Letpadan protests

The heavy-handed police action is also embarrassing for the country’s European partners. Last year, the European Union sponsored a multimillion-dollar initiative to train Burma’s police force in crowd-management techniques, supposedly to help protect the “democratic rights of citizens.”

“Whilst training can be given, the E.U. cannot make decisions on the ground,” said the E.U. Delegation to Myanmar. “We have discussed recent events with the Minister of Home Affairs and the Myanmar Police Force, emphasizing the need for negotiation, mutual understanding and compromise.”

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