Myanmar police raise riot shields to fend off a hail of plastic bottles from angry demonstrators — but the clash is just an exercise — as the force seeks to shed its junta-era image with the help of European trainers.

The European Union on Thursday showcased the results of its first round of training with the Myanmar Police Force, which aims to prioritise human rights in operations and modernise techniques.

The programme has coached some 1,419 officers so far in crowd management techniques.

It follows incidents of religious unrest and protest crackdowns, which drew accusations that police had not reformed in line with the country’s political changes.

“The mentality that we try to give is that the police is there for the citizen. It is not there to annoy citizens, it is not there to beat up citizens, it is there to protect the people of this country,” EU ambassador Roland Kobia told AFP.

Myanmar began to emerge from decades of harsh military rule in 2011, when a new regime took power under President Thein Sein, a former general.

It ushered in a widely-praised series of reforms, including freeing hundreds of political prisoners and welcoming opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi into parliament.

But authorities also face a number of challenges as society throws off the shackles of army control, with protests over a variety of issues now a common occurrence.

A botched raid on a demonstration at a copper mine in November 2012 sparked an outpouring of anger after police used phosphorus against protesters, injuring dozens of monks and villagers.

Police have also been accused of failing to act — or even being complicit in — in several episodes of sectarian violence over the last two years.

“There were things which were not done in accord with human rights in the past,” said Lieutenant Yazar Mya Nyein, one of the first batch of trainees.

“Now, after the training, we know how to respect human rights. Our ways of thinking have been changed and we now know we are working to protect the interest of the people,” he added.

The 10 million euro ($13m) EU project will continue until March 2015 and aims to train a total of 4,000 officers.

There are also companion schemes focused on community policing, legal reform and efforts to improve cooperation with the media and civil society groups.

Kobia said the project could be a stepping stone to rebuilding society’s trust in police and authorities in general.

“This can also be helpful on a wider scale to rebuild trust in their own government,” he said.