NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar - Myanmar staged a lavish spectacle of lights and pyrotechnics at the opening ceremony for the Southeast Asian Games Wednesday, as the impoverished and formerly reclusive state displayed a dazzling face to the world.
Fireworks exploded above the 30,000-seat, purpose-built Wunna Theikdi stadium and a series of screens beamed a dramatic lights show during the Chinese-backed extravaganza in the country's capital Naypyidaw.
The 22-day SEA Games, featuring Olympic staples like athletics alongside traditional sports like chinlone, is seen as a coming-out party for Myanmar two years after the end of military rule.
Domestic pop stars and massed ranks of dancers entertained the crowd, which burst into chants of "Myanmar, Myanmar!" when President Thein Sein entered the stadium under a flurry of fireworks.
Athletes paraded around the venue, and the Games were set to be formally opened when a blazing arrow lights a symbolic flame in a large cauldron set high in the stadium.
China, which marked 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.
"China has helped a lot," presidential spokesman Ye Htut told AFP, listing the lighting, sound system and technical advice for Wednesday's ceremony, which features thousands of local performers.
"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," added Ye Htut.