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Myanmar’s White Elephants: Symbols of Change?
November 21, 2011
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In many parts of the world, a "white elephant" means a possession that costs more than it's worth - as an example, Montreal's Olympic Stadium was considered a white elephant for years because it was so expensive to build and maintain. But in the Southeast Asian Republic of Myanmar, actual white elephants are seen as symbols of peace and prosperity. Yesterday Myanmar's government held a welcoming ceremony for two rare white elephants that were discovered recently, and linked their appearance to the country's improving foreign relations.

Myanmar is certainly undergoing many political shifts at the moment: the country has been politically isolated for decades, and relations with foreign governments have been strained because of ongoing human rights abuses, including the long-term detention under house arrest of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, who was finally released from house arrest in November, 2010. Now, though, things are changing: Over the past year, the country's military-controlled government has won limited praise from human rights groups for making some progress toward political freedom. And President Obama announced Friday that Hillary Clinton will visit the country next month, the first visit from an American Secretary of State in 50 years.

Meanwhile, Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party announced plans to re-enter politics and participate in all future elections. President Thein Sein told a group of journalists that he was happy about the news - "I am very pleased at the decision and welcome (Suu Kyi) to enter parliament". This marks a serious break with the past, when Myanmar's government held Suu Kyi prisoner for 15 years to prevent her from participating in the political process.


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