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Thein Sein begins communication campaign

YANGON, Myanmar -- Myanmar's president made his first New Year's address to the nation Tuesday as part of 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 is how most of the country gets its news. Many people in the impoverished country do not own televisions.

“The world was amazed at Myanmar's impressive political progress in 2012,” said 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, Thein Sein acknowleded that he needs 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.”

“The most important ingredient for success of Myanmar's democratic transition is the mutual trust between the government and the people,” he said.

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.

But Thein Sein indicated he was aware of the disconnect between how the outside world and the people of Myanmar view the country's reform process. Many in Myanmar 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, Myanmar held its first public countdown to the New Year in the latest, and perhaps most exuberant, example of its emergence from decades of isolation.

Organizers of the event in Yangon 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.

“This is very exciting and also our first experience in celebrating the New Year at a big countdown gathering,” said Yu Thawda, a university student who came with three of her friends to enjoy the festivities. “We feel like we are in a different world.”

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