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Pagoda festival long banned in Myanmar celebrated again

February 22, 2012 |  1:48 pm

Pagodafestival

In Myanmar, thousands thronged a sacred shrine studded with diamonds for a Buddhist festival that was banned for more than two decades under a military regime, the latest sign of change in the Southeast Asian nation.

And what a sight it was. Every day World Now chooses a remarkable photo from around the world. Today the festivities at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon yielded lots of amazing shots, including this dazzling photo of a rainbow of women in ceremonial dress, walking barefoot to the sound of gongs.

Gatherings of more than five people were liable to be baned in the past, the Associated Press reports. Smaller pagoda ceremonies were allowed, but larger festivals were seen as trouble.

“The previous regime, they wanted people to be repressed, suppressed, quiet and stable,” a saffron-robed monk named Pyinya Wuntha told the Associated Press. “Now the government has changed and the system has changed.”

Myanmar has been slowly opening to the outside world after years of repression. Amnesty International has condemned the Myanmar regime in the past for jailing "thousands of people in their continuing efforts to crush all dissenting views."

Signs of change began appearing in 2010, after the regime allowed the election of a new government, which remains backed by the still-influential military. Last month the country released 651 prisoners, including prominent pro-democracy leaders, and signed a cease-fire agreement with ethnic Karen rebels in the east.

The Obama administration formally restored U.S. diplomatic relations with the country this year after Myanmar took those steps toward reform. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said that with U.S. backing, "I am confident that there will be no turning back from the road toward democracy."

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Myanmar women in ceremonial dress wait to take part in the Buddhist celebrations at the centuries-old Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon on Wednesday. Credit: Altaf Qadri / Associated Press

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