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Hillary Clinton fails to stir isolated Myanmar

world Updated: Dec 01, 2011 00:27 IST
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Myanmar's new capital, Naypyitaw, translates as "Abode of Kings", fitting for US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to begin historic talks that could restore some lustre to one of the world's most reclusive states.

But as she arrived on Wednesday to become the first US secretary of state to visit Myanmar in more than 50 years, there were no crowds, no festivities, no flags and seemingly few preparations aside from some policemen outside the hotel compound where she will stay and on nearby roads.

In striking contrast, a large billboard had been strung up at a nearby hotel, welcoming the prime minister of Belarus, who is also due to visit in coming days.

Some workers were sweeping the wide but mostly deserted boulevards of the sprawling city built from scratch just five years ago, where Myanmar's leaders and powerful retired generals have isolated themselves, some 320 km (200 miles) from the largest city and former capital, Yangon.

At the airport, she was greeted by a small delegation led by Myanmar's foreign minister.

Naypyitaw is a maze of ministry buildings, government mansions, civil servants' quarters and presidential palaces complete with grand Roman-style pillars - all rising from dusty, arid scrubland. At its heart are parliament's 31 buildings, with pagoda-style roofs.

A labourer at a construction site next to parliament said he had no idea who was visiting.

"All I know is someone important is coming but I don't know who," said the worker, Ye Pun Naing. Told that it was Clinton, he shrugged his shoulders and said that meant nothing to him.

That's not too surprising.

Myanmar has only just begun to emerge from an extraordinary half-century of isolation. The past few months have seen the most dramatic changes in the former British colony since the military took power in a 1962 coup as the nation undegoes a string of reforms.