TAUNGGYI-A brightly patterned hot air balloon spitting fireworks soared into the night sky above Myanmar’s Shan state as a much-loved festival returned, but crowds stayed away from the military-backed event as violent clashes swell across the country.
Tuesday marked the return of the Tazaungdaing festival to the city of Taunggyi after a three-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic and unrest following the military seizing power in 2021. The usually riotous event sees teams load batteries of fireworks into homemade hot air balloons, with referees judging both the design of the contraptions and the magnificence of their aerial explosions. But this year’s military-managed celebration was muted, with revellers staying away and a heavy presence of security personnel deployed as the junta battles coordinated attacks across the country.
Taunggyi lies towards the southwestern edge of Shan state, around 350 kilometres (220 miles) away from the state’s northeast, which has seen intense fighting since an armed alliance of ethnic minority groups launched an offensive against the junta on October 27. Masked soldiers stood watch next to a signal-jamming truck in the city, and the shadows of others standing guard on the surrounding hills were silhouetted against the dusk sky. A convoy of four-wheel-drive vehicles delivered local dignitaries — some accompanied by pro-military militia bodyguards — to the stage, where they watched hundreds of school and college students perform synchronised dances.__The Nation