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SEA Games: Myanmar aims to dazzle with Games opening ceremony

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Final preparations were underway Wednesday for the opening ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar, with organisers hoping the glitzy Chinese-assisted event will thrust the once reclusive country onto the world stage.

China, which capped 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, presidential spokesman Ye Htut told AFP.

"China has helped a lot," he said of the ceremony to be held later Wednesday in the 30,000 capacity purpose-built Wunna Theikdi stadium in the capital Naypyidaw.

China provided lighting, the sound system and technical advice for the ceremony, which organisers say will feature thousands of local performers backed by a dazzling light show.

"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," at the regional showpiece event, added Ye Htut.

China is keen to secure its economic and political interests in impoverished Myanmar, 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 both a return to international sport and 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."

The opening ceremony will be watched by a full house, but ordinary fans have struggled to get tickets with large blocks alloted to media, dignitaries and various ministries in Naypyidaw.

Competition has already finished in several minor events, including local cane-ball game chinlone, which was played in front of enthusiastic crowds of local fans.

Myanmar took six golds in that event, propelling it to the top of the medals table with 18 golds.

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

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131211/sea-games-myanmar-aims-dazzle-games-opening-ceremony