Security goes barefoot with Clinton in Myanmar

Thu Dec 1, 2011 9:04am EST
 
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By Andrew Quinn

YANGON (Reuters) - U.S. security went barefoot on Thursday as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton toured one of Myanmar's most revered shrines, a towering golden pagoda that is the symbol of a country seeking fresh rapprochement with the West.

Clinton arrived at the Shwedagon Pagoda shortly after arriving in Myanmar's main commercial city, Yangon, and took off her shoes to follow respectful Buddhist tradition at a site rich with religious and patriotic significance for the country also known as Burma.

Clinton's U.S. diplomatic security detail quickly followed suit, while barefoot agents in business suits fanned out across the huge complex of spires and Buddha statues, muttering into their radios.

A crowd of tourists and local visitors applauded as Clinton made the rounds, stopping to make an offering of flowers in front of the Gold Buddha statue, one of the centerpieces of the elaborate pagoda site, as well as to pause and hit a huge bell three times with a gold-adorned staff.

"Hitting the bell means she is sharing the merits of today's events for both of our countries," said Phone Myint, one of the tour guides at the shrine which dates back as far as the 6th century.

The visit represented an incongruous mash-up of official Washington, Asian tradition and modern-day tourism, with Clinton and her entire staff of diplomats, advisers and the travelling press all shuffling shoe-less past Buddha statues decorated with neon halos and stalked by feral cats.

The pagoda stop was also one of Clinton's few chances to see anything of modern-day Myanmar, which is implementing tentative political reforms as it seeks to improve ties with Washington after decades of estrangement.

She is the first U.S. secretary of state to visit in more than 50 years, and U.S. officials say they still know little about a country many view as both hermetic and hard to read.   Continued...

 
<p>Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hits a bell for good luck as she tours Shwedegon Pagoda in Yangon December 1, 2011. REUTERS/Saul Loeb/Pool</p>