Myanmar set for New Year spark with first countdown
YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar revelers are gearing up to cheer in 2013 with the country's first public New Year countdown and fireworks display Tuesday in an exuberant showcase of its transformation since the end of junta rule.
"The world counts down with Myanmar" read one sign at the site of the celebration in the city of Yangon, where local music and dance acts will entertain an expected crowd of around 50,000 in front of the revered golden Shwedagon Pagoda.
The countdown is seen as the latest sign that authorities under a new quasi-civilian regime are loosening their iron grip on a nation long-oppressed under decades of military rule.
"It's great. There should be more and more events like this," 18-year-old Kaung Set Linn told AFP.
"On previous New Years I was just in the city with my friends. It is changing now, we have more and more opportunities to have fun," he said.
Organizers had to campaign for months to get permission for the event from the government, which has embarked on dramatic reforms since President Thein Sein took office last year.
Sweeping changes, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament, have seen the West dismantle sanctions against the impoverished former pariah state.
The countdown is the second large public party in Yangon in a matter of weeks after US singer Jason Mraz headlined a concert in Yangon on December 16 -- the first major international gig the country had held.
"I came here to have fun and leave disappointment behind," said 27-year-old reveller Sithu, admiring the stage decoration.
"I was very keen to come to the show and I want more events like this." – Rappler.com