Myanmar state media are blaming protesters for the violence that erupted Tuesday when police cleared a group of student activists who were demanding the government scrap an education reform law.
The officers turned on the students in the central town of Letpadan after they tried to push through a police barricade. Photos and video showed police chasing down the protesters, kicking and beating them with batons before throwing them into wagons.
WATCH: Mobile video of Myanmar police clash with student protesters
The Global New Light of Myanmar, a government-run daily that often reflects official opinions, on Wednesday implied the protesters were at fault for trying to "liberate from the surrounding of the police," a move which it said led to violence.
More than 120 people were arrested and many were injured, prompting fresh worries that recent democratic reforms are being reversed in the Southeast Asian country.
NLD, US slam police action
The National League for Democracy, the party headed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, slammed the police action as illegal and called for the creation of an investigative commission.
At a regular briefing in Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki condemned the use of force against the students.
"We urge the government of Burma to respect the right of protesters to assemble peacefully as a means of expressing their views," Psaki said Tuesday. "Freedom of assembly is an important component of any democratic society."
The European Union called for a formal investigation, adding that it was "deeply concerned" at the incident.
Human Rights Watch also urged Myanmar to end its crackdown on student protests and "investigate officers responsible for the use of excessive force against protesters."
"The savage beating of students by police and plainclothes thugs marks an ugly return to the street violence of military rule," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The government needs to rein in abusive police, disband unaccountable auxiliaries, and permit peaceful demonstrations."
The group, made up of hundreds of students, set off on a march last month from Mandalay, trying to reach Yangon, Myanmar's main city. But the march was stopped by police on March 2 in the city of Letpadan, about 130 kilometers north of Yangon.
The students say the government's education reform law will centralize control of universities in Myanmar. They also want more government spending on education as well as the freedom to organize teachers and students.
Myanmar has been run by a semi-civilian government since 2011, after decades of military rule. But pro-democracy activists say they believe they are seeing a return to the old Burma, where military rulers banned free speech and violently cracked down on protests.