27th Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar officially opened

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SEA_Games_2013_OpeningThe SEA Games returned to Myanmar on Wednesday after a 44-year wait, as Naypyidaw celebrated with an Opening Ceremony filled with impressive lavish spectacle of lights and visual effects.

Fireworks exploded above the 30,000-seat, purpose-built Wunna Theikdi stadium and a series of screens beamed a dramatic lights show during the Chinese-backed extravaganza in the country’s capital Naypyidaw.

More than 6,000 athletes and officials strode into the spanking-new Wunna Theikdi Stadium with huge smiles, parading in front of Myanmar president Thein Sein.

Myanmar’s vice-premier Nyan Tun declared the Games open, the first it has hosted a sports event of such scale since 1969, when the Games was still known as the South-east Asian Peninsular Games.

A total of 210 athletes are seeing action at the 27th edition of the Southeast Asian Games, with wrestler Jason Balabal as the team’s flag bearer, marching in-front of the huge crowd in Igorot costume.

The 22-day SEA Games, featuring Olympic staples like athletics alongside traditional sports like chinlone, is seen as a coming-out party for Myanmar two years after the end of military rule.

Domestic pop stars and massed ranks of dancers entertained the crowd, which burst into chants of “Myanmar, Myanmar!” when President Thein Sein entered the stadium under a flurry of fireworks.

The Games were formally opened when a bare-chested warrior in a chariot fired a blazing arrow to light a symbolic flame in a large cauldron set high in the stadium.

There was a glitch, however, when the cauldron lit up before the flaming arrow had left the warrior’s bow.

China, which marked its own international re-emergence with the Beijing Olympics in 2008, has offered nearly $33 million in technical assistance including for the opening and closing ceremonies.

“China has helped a lot,” presidential spokesman Ye Htut told AFP, listing the lighting, sound system and technical advice for Wednesday’s ceremony, which features thousands of local performers.

“The Chinese also trained 200 of our athletes on their soil and they have sent two dozen sports coaches to help us improve our level,” added Ye Htut.

Myanmar_SEA_Games_OpeningChina is keen to secure its economic and political interests in Myanmar, one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries which sits at a crossroads between the world’s second biggest economy and regional rival India.

The United States has also courted Myanmar since it began political reforms in 2011. It also is eyeing the potential of a new market of 60 million people and a country flush with natural resources.

Myanmar is hosting the Games for the first time in more than four decades, marking another landmark in its gradual emergence from rule by a hardline military junta.

“For 44 years we have not had the SEA Games,” said Onh Myint Oo, a former army officer who is now deputy director-general of the sports ministry.

“Now we are open for business. It’s the right time to have the Games.”

Despite huge demand for tickets by ordinary fans, hundreds of seats were left unfilled apparently as the staff of various government ministries did not turn up.

Competition has already started and finished in some events, including the Myanmar cane-ball game of chinlone which was played in front of enthusiastic crowds of local fans.

Myanmar won six categories in that event, propelling it to an early lead in the medals table with 18 golds.

But the bulk of the disciplines begin on Thursday and run until the closing ceremony on December 22.

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