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Leader vows to earn Burma's trust


Burma president Thein Sein (AP)

Burma president Thein Sein (AP)

The first ever public New Year Countdown celebration in Burma, at Myoma grounds in Yangon (AP)

The first ever public New Year Countdown celebration in Burma, at Myoma grounds in Yangon (AP)


Burma president Thein Sein (AP)

Burma's president made his first new year's address to the nation in what he called a new campaign to communicate directly with the people.

President Thein Sein reflected on the country's much-touted progress last year and the challenges ahead in a five-minute broadcast, which he said he chose to deliver by radio because that was how most people received its news. Many in the impoverished nation, also known as Myanmar, do not own televisions.

"The world was amazed at Myanmar's impressive political progress in 2012," said Mr Thein Sein, who last year became the first elected president after a half-century of military rule.

"We all know that our once closed and isolated society still has many aspects to reform."

In a show of humility that was not displayed by the former junta, Mr Thein Sein acknowledged that he needed to do more to earn the people's trust and will make a point to speak to the people more often.

He vowed "to start a new direct communication link, which is a necessity for our society". He said: "The most important ingredient for success of Myanmar's democratic transition is the mutual trust between the government and the people."

The 67-year-old ex-general, who had been prime minister under the ruling junta, has won international praise for spearheading reforms, including ending direct media censorship, releasing political prisoners and allowing public demonstrations.

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But Mr Thein Sein indicated he was aware of the disconnect between how the outside world and the people of Burma view the country's reform process. Many say they read about their country's changes but see no difference to their impoverished everyday lives.

"Popular expectations have soared as reforms in the previous year brought about political developments," he said, asking the public to be patient, saying that widespread change takes time.

On New Year's Eve, Burma held its first public countdown to the new year in the latest, and perhaps most exuberant, example of its emergence from decades of isolation. Organisers of the event in Rangoon said about 90,000 people gathered at the celebration, which featured music, dancing and a grand fireworks display - all unthinkable under the former military regime, which had banned public gatherings.

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