Apr 16, 2014, 5:19 am (BST)
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T-Shirt maker rides wave of Suu Kyi fervour
YANGON, March 16 (BSS/AFP) - If roaring sales of his Aung San Suu Kyi T-shirts are a yardstick, then businessman Swe Yie thinks Myanmar's tentative steps to democracy are on the right track.

The father-of-two is struggling to keep up with demand for
his shirts bearing the images of the Nobel laureate and her
revered late father General Aung San in recent weeks as the
regime eases its iron grip on the nation.

"Before, you wouldn't even dare talk about 'The Lady' much
less openly sell any merchandise that would be associated with
her," Swe Yie said at his shop.

"These shirts are our best sellers now," the 56-year-old
told AFP.

The low-quality garments fetch about one or two dollars
apiece, and at a print run of more than 3,000 a day, Swe Yie said
it was fair to say he could dream of running a business empire

His success is all the more surprising because his tiny shop
is located just metres (feet) away from the nearest police
station, in a country where the authorities previously crushed
any sign of political dissent.

In a rundown building in Yangon, lit by two flickering
fluorescent bulbs, his wife works their sole manual sewing
machine, churning out miniature NLD flags, as T-shirts for sale
flap in the tropical breeze outside.

Four workers sit on the concrete floor using a silkscreen to
print images on a mound of colourful T-shirts, some of which are
bought by re-sellers including hawkers who attend Aung San Suu
Kyi's campaign rallies.

Many of Swe Yie's customers are foreign tourists enamoured
by Aung San Suu Kyi, the heroine who emerged from years of house
arrest in late 2010 and is now running for a seat in parliament
for the first time in April by-elections. -MORE/SI/0850 HRS

The dissident's face also is often seen on T-shirts worn by
people among the crowds of supporters who have greeted her on the
campaign trail.

It is part of a boom in sales of Aung San Suu Kyi
memorabilia, including posters and keyrings.

Portraits of the opposition leader are prominently displayed
in tea shops, restaurants and on the sidewalks.

Illegal copies of Luc Besson's "The Lady", a two-hour biopic
about the pro- democracy icon's private life, have also flooded
the streets of Yangon as vendors push the boundaries of new-found

Aung San Suu Kyi's release in 2010 was among a host of
reforms by the generals who ruled the impoverished country
outright for almost half a century until installing a nominally
civilian government last year.

The new government has freed hundreds of political
prisoners, agreed tentative ceasefire pacts with several armed
ethnic minority groups and suspended work on a controversial dam
project backed by China.

In the main city of Yangon, more tourists can be seen on the
streets, nearly all the hotels are fully booked, and people are
becoming less afraid of discussing politics in public.

"There are many, many reforms needed, but at least there
seem to be some small steps," Swe Yie said.

"I feel it is easier to make a living now in these changing
times. Life remains difficult in a lot of ways, but we have a
chance now. I call sell openly without fear of being arrested,"
he added.

"I hope one day everyone in Myanmar will be able to live
comfortably, free to work and choose what they want to do in
life. My country is very poor, but I hope we will become rich
like other countries."
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