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Lavish Myanmar junta wedding video sparks outrage

November 2, 2006

Lavish Myanmar junta wedding video sparks outrage

By Ed Cropley

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A leaked video of the lavish wedding laid on by Myanmar junta supremo Than Shwe for his daughter has sparked outrage among ordinary people in the military-ruled and deeply impoverished nation. 

In a 10-minute clip posted on the Internet, bride Thandar Shwe is seen decked out in layers of pearls and sparkling stones that appear to be diamonds, and standing beside her husband as he pours champagne over a cascade of wine glasses. 

After a reception for hundreds of guests at which a five-tiered wedding cake is cut, the happy couple are seen posing before an ornate gold-braid bridal suite bed, complete with red canopy stretching up to the ceiling. 

Even before the video surfaced, the July bash was the talk of the town in Yangon, the former Burma's leafy, colonial-era capital, amid reports of wedding gifts including luxury cars and houses worth a total of $50 million. 

"I've never seen so many diamonds -- although they were a bit yellow," said one Yangon resident, noting an apparent lack of taste compared to the annual parties thrown by previous dictator Ne Win for his favourite daughter. 

After seeing the cherry-sized rocks around her neck, Yangon wags are dubbing the bride Thandar "Sein", which means diamond in Burmese. 

"It's outrageous, just outrageous, especially when you consider that most Burmese live in extreme poverty," said Aung Zaw, editor of Irrawaddy, a Thailand-based magazine covering Myanmar, one of Asia's poorest countries after four decades of economic mismanagement by a succession of military rulers. 

"Than Shwe was the one who accused other top leaders of corruption whenever he wanted to remove them," he said. "It's the pot calling the kettle black." 

The emergence of what appeared to be the official wedding video might even be an attempt to discredit Than Shwe, the 73-year-old "Senior General" who has tried to portray himself in official media as a man of modest means, he added. 

"Weddings have mystery politics behind them, so I'm curious to find out why this video was released," Aung Zaw said. 

Speculation has been rife among Myanmar exiles that Than Shwe is planning on taking a step back from power in favour of a more ceremonial "President for Life" role. 

Thandar Shwe's husband is Zaw Phyo Win, an army major and a deputy director at the Commerce Ministry. 

In the video of the ceremony, held at a state reception hall in Yangon, Than Shwe appears walking stiffly at his daughter's side in starched white shirt and a traditional orange wrap called a longgyi. 

It is one of the few glimpses of the reclusive strongman out of military uniform and in his private life. 

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