Flags and fireworks as Cambodia kicks off SEA Games
May 5, 2023 10:20 PM
Cambodia kicked off its first ever hosting of the Southeast Asian Games on Friday, in a historical ballyhoo of singing, dancing, flag-waving and fireworks.
The evening's festivities welcomed athletes from across the region to the biennial multi-sport event while trumpeting the country's rich history and thanking its long-ruling leader for recent modernisation.
Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party is keen to build excitement and patriotic fervour around the Games, with a successful event and good medals haul likely to boost national sentiment two months ahead of parliamentary elections which the CPP will almost certainly win.
Tickets have been given away for free -- and demand has been high.
Inside the Morodok Techo National Stadium on Friday, a clear and balmy evening, all of the venue's 60,000 seats were packed.
Built and paid for by China, the stadium looms over the open, wooded parts of Phnom Penh's far outskirts like a crash-landed spaceship.
But its two dramatically cresting pylons also evoke the keel and stern of Chinese trading junks which plied the capital city's waterways hundreds of years ago.
Almost all in attendance wafted themselves with handheld fans or brandished Cambodian flags -- when not participating in an impeccably observed Mexican wave.
All stood for the national anthem when soldiers in ceremonial uniform performed a flag-waving ceremony.
The main production -- a riot of golden finery, elegant costumes and spear-toting warriors -- told the story of the kingdom, from its founding myths through the Angkor period. Athletes demonstrated Kun Bokator, the national martial art making its debut at this year's Games.
Skipping ahead to mention a bleaker period, a speaker noted only the end of "the dark era of the genocidal Pol Pot" in 1978 and thanked Cambodian leaders since then for "prosperity and peace".
The most senior of those leaders were in attendance.
Along with dignitaries including the prime minister of Vietnam and the president of Laos, Hun Sen entered the stadium to great applause.
Several events of the SEA Games have already been played out, and the hosts are top of the medals table for now, with five golds.
Events kick into full gear Saturday, with the Games running to May 17, before the Para Games in early June.