Sat, Nov 04, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Wedding sparks outrage

AFP , BANGKOK

A video of the lavish wedding that Myanmar's military ruler Than Shwe threw for his daughter sparked outrage yesterday in one of the world's poorest countries.

In the 10-minute clip posted on the Internet, Thandar Shwe is shown covered in layers of pearls, diamonds and other gems, while her groom splashes champagne across rows of glasses at the July wedding.

She and her groom, Major Zaw Phyo Win, are also shown in a bridal suite the size of a ballroom, standing before a gold-braid bed with a towering red canopy.

The Myanmar news magazine Irrawaddy estimated the value of the gifts at more than US$50 million -- or more than three times the nation's health budget.

Myanmar analyst Aung Naing Oo said he was stunned by the video and struggled to find a comparison.

"You might want to talk about Marie Antoinette," he said. "They don't know what is going on outside and they just keep making themselves more rich."

"I'm not surprised that people are very angry," he added.

"The whole affair is very tasteless ... Four, five, six diamond garlands. I've never seen it before," he said.

Myanmar is one of the world's poorest countries, where the UN estimates 40 percent of children are malnourished.

Even the relatively well-off in Yangon experience power outages that last up to seven hours a day and struggle to find gas for their cars.

The leak of the video offered a rare opportunity to peak under the blanket of secrecy in which Than Shwe wraps his government.

"This video clip was originally obtained from a private Web log in Rangoon [Yangon] and had been circulating within the former capital for more than a month," read a brief note attached to the video on the Web site YouTube.

"It was a glittering affair," said one Yangon resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He said the lavish wedding gifts were given by the guests in hopes of winning favor with the regime.

"They bring a lot presents so they can try to receive favors later," he said.

While the video has sparked outrage among exiles, relatively few people inside Myanmar are likely to see it.

The military keeps tight controls on the Internet, and while DVD copies have circulated discreetly among Myanmar's markets, few of the nation's impoverished people have any way to play them.

The junta keeps such tight control over all its activities that the appearance of the video immediately sparked questions as to how it was leaked.

"Outsiders cannot even dream about getting close to the first family. So the cameraman I think must be highly regarded and trusted by the first family," Aung Naing Oo said. "The very fact that the video is out [means] that someone close to them must have leaked it."

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