Sri Lanka fetes Myanmar junta leader on rare foreign trip

KANDY, November 13, 2009 (AFP) – Dozens of dancers, drummers and three elephants greeted Myanmar’s reclusive junta leader as the elderly general began a pilgrimage in Sri Lanka Friday on a rare foreign outing. Schoolchildren cheered and waved paper flags of both countries and passers-by took pictures as the visiting leader’s motorcade slowly drove through the narrow streets of the central Buddhist pilgrimage city of Kandy.

General Than Shwe and his wife Daw Kyaing Kyaing, both dressed in white tunic tops and gold embroided sarongs, clasped their hands in prayer as a saffron-robed Buddhist monk invoked blessings on their arrival.

Their 26-member entourage later moved to pray and meditate at the historic Temple of the Sacred Tooth relic, that was once bombed by the now defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in 1998.

The junta leader, believed to be in his 70s, looked to have recovered from a stomach bug on Thursday and was able to climb the stairs to the gilded roof chamber at the temple, where the tooth of Lord Buddha is believed to be enshrined.

He has looked physically frail since arriving on Thursday, but on the few occasions he has spoken publicly, his voice has been firm.

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