The 27th Southeast Asian Games officially commenced on Wednesday with Myanmar, which was formerly ruled by an authoritarian military junta, keen to use the biennial sporting showcase to signal its commitment to openness to the world.
The opening ceremony was held in the new capital, Naypyitaw, as the country is hosting the event for the first time in 44 years.
However, the overbearing scrutiny that was typical under the junta has not been totally banished, as the ceremony was held under tight security by armed forces at the brand new Wunna Theikdi Stadium.
Thousands of Myanmarese mostly wearing longyi (Myanmar sarong) flocked to the stadium hours before the ceremony began at 5 p.m. local time.
Around 6,000 athletes and officials from 11 participating countries as well as some heads of state attended the ceremony, highlighted with various traditional performances.
The event, which will run until Dec. 22, will hand out 1,557 medals (460 golds, 460 silvers and 637 bronze) in 33 sporting events.
In his speech, Vice President U Nyan Tun said that the country was eager to carry on the tradition of success it had established as host in 1961 and 1969, when the competition was called the Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games.
"This will be the third time and I believe it will be a great success," he said.
He expected this would be a beginning for improving connectivity in sports among Asian countries.
The grandiose Wunna Theikdi Stadium was completed early this year, but some supporting infrastructure remains unfinished.