YANGON: Every year, Myanmar's ruling generals throw a grand party in verdant People's Park, marching their troops around in celebration of what they claim are their many achievements. But it's an in-house affair.
The general public isn't invited to the Armed Forces Day event, and is kept well away by tight security.
To many, it's a symbol of the gulf between people and rulers in Asia's last military dictatorship, and underlines the grip of a regime which internal dissent and international pressure seem powerless to loosen.
Rarely in the 17 years since the present junta seized power has the mood in the capital of the impoverished country seemed bleaker.
In fact, the generals are looking more secure than ever. They have continental Asia's two biggest powers, India and China, on their side, and unless foreign objections prevail, Myanmar will next year assume the prestigious rotating chairmanship of Asean.
The junta is widely hated, says one knowledgeable Yangon man, but adds that short of a US invasion, no one can see a way of dislodging it.
“People know they would get gunned down if they protested in the streets,'' he said, requesting anonymity for fear of official retaliation.
Thus dissent is merely expressed in sarcastic jokes rather than anti-regime plotting when the disaffected of Yangon meet in the teashops that officials regard as hotbeds of opposition.
A new US State Department report says: “Prospects for meaningful political change and reform continued to decline over the past six months.''
Headed by hard-liner Gen Than Shwe, who consolidated his power with the ousting of a powerful rival last year, the junta shows no signs of releasing Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who symbolises Myanmar's pro-democracy movement.
Except in Yangon, the offices of her National League for Democracy across the country remain padlocked.
The junta insists it's following a seven-point road map to democracy and a constitution has been in the works for 12 years. But critics are unimpressed.
“This road map and this constitution have been charades from the very beginning,'' says Asda Jayanama, Thailand's former ambassador to the United Nations. – AP
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