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YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's ruling military changed the country's flag, national anthem and official name on Thursday, just over two weeks before the country's first election in 20 years, state media said.
The changes were outlined in a new constitution published in 2008 but the government had not announced a date for their introduction.
The country's new name is the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, instead of the Union of Myanmar.
The military, which has ruled since a 1962 coup, changed the country's name in English from Burma to Myanmar in 1989, a year after widespread protests against military rule were crushed, and a year before the last election.
That election was won by the party of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi but the military ignored the result. Suu Kyi has spent 15 of the past 21 years in detention.
The new flag has a horizontal band of light green at the top, dark green in the center and red at the bottom, with a white star in the middle. There has been no official explanation as to what the colors or the star represent.
Nor has there been any explanation as to why the changes, which include a new state seal, were being made.
Officials in various government departments told Reuters they were ordered to change the flags.
"We were caught by surprise when we got the order at short notice. There was also an order that the old flags must be burned," said one official who declined to be identified.
The order stipulated that the old flag had to be lowered by someone born on a Tuesday and the new flag had to be raised by someone born on a Wednesday, he said.
"It must have been instructed by astrologers," he said.
Myanmar's secretive military rulers, who will retain ultimate power no matter who wins the November 7 parliamentary election, are widely believed to consult astrologers.
Several dozen passers-by watched the formal ceremony to change the flags at Yangon City Hall.
One, who declined to be identified, said the change was akin to putting old wine in new bottles: "The label has changed but what is really needed is a change of the wine."
Editing by Robert Birsel