Aung San Suu Kyi

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Posted by motoman 05/04/2009 @ 12:19

Tags : aung san suu kyi, myanmar, asia, world

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Op-Ed Contributor Free Aung San Suu Kyi - New York Times
These words, uttered by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 1990, resound more than ever as a call for help at a time when the Burmese junta has initiated proceedings against her that are as absurd as they are unjustified. We are not fooled: This is a poor pretext...
Kouchner: Release Suu Kyi now - SmartBrief
France Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Bernard Kouchner argues that Myanmar's junta cannot continue to turn a deaf ear to the unified cries of Europe, the US and Asia for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the long-imprisoned democracy activist...
Trial of Myanmar's Suu Kyi adjourned until June 26 - Forbes
AP , 06.12.09, 12:16 AM EDT YANGON, Myanmar -- A Myanmar official says the trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been adjourned until June 26. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to...
Russian pledges more democracy - Philadelphia Inquirer
AP YANGON, Myanmar - Lawyers for jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi filed an appeal yesterday to Myanmar's High Court to reinstate two key defense witnesses in a case that could put her in prison for five years. Suu Kyi gave her legal team...
Report: Singapore investors wait on Myanmar polls - The Associated Press
The trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was adjourned Friday for two weeks. Suu Kyi is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest when an uninvited American man swam secretly to her closely guarded lakeside home last month and...
France, Germany join ranks in seeking release of Suu Kyi - Mizzima.com
... Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, during a joint news conference Thursday in Paris declared they are trying to enlist the assistance of China and India to exert further pressure on Burma's military authorities concerning the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi....
Burma Court to Consider Appeal in Aung San Suu Kyi Trial - Voice of America
By VOA News A lawyer for Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi says a court in the military-run nation will consider an appeal against a key ruling in her trial. Aung San Suu Kyi's lawyers have asked the Rangoon court to readmit three defense...
The American mystery man behind Aung San Suu Kyi's latest troubles - Christian Science Monitor
By Carol Huang | Asia editor 05.28.09 The trial of Aung San Suu Kyi has boosted even further the prominence of the world's best-known prisoner of conscience. It's also drawn worldwide attention – or, notoriety – to John Yettaw, the American who entered...
European Union Urges Immediate Release of Aung San Suu Kyi - Voice of America
By Daniel Schearf The European Union is urging Burma to immediately release democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. European and Asian foreign ministers are meeting in Hanoi this week to discuss cooperation on a range of issues...
UN Chief Ban Plans Myanmar Visit to Press for Suu Kyi's Release - Bloomberg
By Michael Heath May 22 (Bloomberg) -- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he will visit Myanmar “as soon as possible” to press for the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners....

Aung San Suu Kyi

Burma 3 150.jpg

Aung San Suu Kyi AC (Burmese: အောင်ဆန်းစုကြည် or ; MLCTS: aung hcan: cu. krany; IPA: ); born 19 June 1945 in Rangoon, is a pro-democracy activist and leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma, and a noted prisoner of conscience and advocate of nonviolent resistance. Aung San Suu Kyi was the third child in her family. Her name is derived from three relatives; "Aung San" from her father, "Kyi" from her mother and "Suu" from her grandmother. Suu Kyi won the Rafto Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In 1992 she was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru peace prize by the Government of India for her peaceful and non-violent struggle under a military dictatorship. She is currently under detention, with the Burmese junta repeatedly extending her detention. According to the results of the 1990 general election, Suu Kyi earned the right to be Prime Minister, as leader of the winning National League for Democracy party, but her detention by the military junta prevented her from assuming that role.

She is frequently called Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; Daw is not part of her name, but an honorific similar to madam for older, revered women, literally meaning "aunt". Strictly speaking, her given name is equivalent to her full name, but it is acceptable to refer to her as "Ms. Suu Kyi" or Dr. Suu Kyi, since those syllables serve to distinguish her from her father, General Aung San, who is considered to be the father of modern-day Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi was born on 19 June 1945. Her father, Aung San, founded the modern Burmese army and negotiated Burma's independence from the United Kingdom in 1947; he was assassinated by his rivals in the same year. She grew up with her mother, Khin Kyi, and two brothers, Aung San Lin and Aung San Oo in Yangon. Her favourite brother Aung San Lin drowned in a pool accident when Suu Kyi was eight. Her elder brother migrated to San Diego, California, becoming a United States citizen. Suu Kyi was educated in English Catholic schools for much of her childhood in Burma.

Daw Khin Kyi gained prominence as a political figure in the newly-formed Burmese government. She was appointed Burmese ambassador to India in 1960, and Aung San Suu Kyi followed her there, graduating from Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi in 1964.

Aung San Suu Kyi continued her education at St Hugh's College, Oxford, obtaining a B.A. degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics in 1969 and a Ph.D. at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in 1985. She also worked for the government of the Union of Myanmar. In 1972, Aung San Suu Kyi married Dr. Michael Aris, a scholar of Tibetan culture, living abroad in Bhutan. The following year she gave birth to their first son, Alexander, in London; their second son, Kim, was born in 1977.

She is a Theravada Buddhist.

On 2 May 2008, after Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, Suu Kyi lost her roof and was living in virtual darkness after losing electricity in her dilapidated lakeside residence. She used candles at night as she was not provided any generator set.

Aung San Suu Kyi returned to Burma in 1988 to take care of her ailing mother. By coincidence, in the same year, the long-time leader of the Socialist ruling party, General Ne Win, stepped down, leading to mass demonstrations for democracy on 8 August 1988 (8-8-88, a day seen as auspicious), which were violently suppressed. A new military junta took power.

Influenced by both Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence and by more specifically Buddhist concepts, Aung San Suu Kyi entered politics to work for democratization, helped found the National League for Democracy on 27 September 1988, and was put under house arrest on 20 July 1989. She was offered freedom if she left the country, but she refused.

Protests led by Buddhist monks began on 19 August 2007 following steep fuel price increases, and continued each day, despite the threat of a crackdown by the military.

On Saturday, 22 September 2007, although still under house arrest, Suu Kyi made a brief public appearance at the gate of her residence in Yangon to accept the blessings of Buddhist monks who were marching in support of human rights.

It was reported that she had been moved the following day to Insein Prison (where she had been detained in 2003), but meetings with UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari near her Yangon home on 30 September and 2 October established that she remained under house arrest.

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Burma

Location of Burma

Burma, officially the Union of Myanmar, is the largest country by geographical area in mainland Southeast Asia, or Indochina. The country is bordered by the People's Republic of China on the northeast, Laos on the east, Thailand on the southeast, Bangladesh on the west, India on the northwest, and the Bay of Bengal to the southwest with the Andaman Sea defining its southern periphery. One-third of Burma's total perimeter, 1,930 kilometres (1,199 mi), forms an uninterrupted coastline.

The country's culture, heavily influenced by neighbours, is based on Theravada Buddhism intertwined with local elements. Burma's diverse population has played a major role in defining its politics, history and demographics in modern times, and the country continues to struggle to mend its ethnic tensions. The military has dominated government since General Ne Win led a coup in 1962 that toppled the civilian government of U Nu. The Burmese Way to Socialism drove the formerly prosperous country into deep poverty. Burma remains under the tight control of the military-led State Peace and Development Council.

In the Burmese language, a language closely related to Arakanese, Burma is known as either Myanmah ( ) or Bama ( ), depending on the register used. Since British colonial rule, the country was known in English as "Burma". In 1989, the military government officially changed the English version of the country's name from "Burma" to "Myanmar", and changed the English versions of many place names in the country along with it, such as its former capital city from "Rangoon" to "Yangon" (which represents its pronunciation more accurately in Burmese). This prompted one scholar to coin the term "Myanmarification" to refer to the top-down program of political and cultural reform in the context of which the renaming was done.

The renaming proved to be politically controversial on several grounds. Opposition groups continue to use the name "Burma", because they do not recognize the legitimacy of the ruling military government nor its authority to rename the country in English. Various non-Bamar ethnic groups choose to not recognize the name because the term Myanmah has historically been used as a label for the majority ethnic group rather than for the country.

Various world entities have chosen to accept or reject the name change. The United Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, endorsed the name change five days after its announcement by the junta. However, governments of many English speaking countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada still refer to the country as "Burma", with varying levels of recognition of the validity of the name change itself. Others, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the governments of Germany, France, Japan, China and Russia recognise "Myanmar" as the official name.

Media usage is also mixed. In spite of the usage by the US government, American news outlets including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The International Herald Tribune and CNN, and US-based international news agencies the Associated Press and Reuters have adopted the name "Myanmar". Others do still use "Burma", including Voice of America, The Washington Post, and Time. Canada's National Post also uses "Myanmar" in spite of the Canadian government's usage. Other sources often use terms such as "Burma, also known as Myanmar".

The name "Myanmar" is derived from the local short-form name Myanma Naingngandaw, the name used by the regime currently in power in the country. While the etymology of the name is unclear, it has been used since the 13th Century primarily as a reference to the Myanma ethnic group. Until the mid-19th century, rulers in the region identified themselves with the areas that they ruled. For example, the 18th Century king, Alaungpaya alternately referred to himself as the ruler of Tampradipa and Thunaparanta, Ramanadesa, and Kamboza (all alternate names of places in the Irrawaddy Valley) in correspondence with the East India Company. The Court of Ava was the first to use this name to refer to its kingdom in the mid-19th Century, when its power was declining, when the kingdom was confined to the Irrawaddy Valley which was predominantly Myanma in character, and at a time when the Myanma ethnic identity first began to develop a political identity. In older English documents the usage was Bermah, and later Burmah, possibly from the Portuguese Birmania which is thought to be a corruption of the Indian word for Burma, Bama. Burma is known as Birmanie in French, Birmania in both Italian and Spanish, and Birmânia in Portuguese.

Confusion among English speakers on how to pronounce 'Myanmar' gives rise to pronunciations such as /ˈmjɑːnmɑr/, /maɪənˈmɑr/, /ˈmiːənmɑr/ and /miːˈænmɑr/. The BBC recommends /mjænˈmɑr/.

Burma, which has a total area of 678,500 square kilometres (261,970 sq mi), is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, and the 40th-largest in the world (Zambia being the 39th).

It is bordered to the northwest by Chittagong Division of Bangladesh and Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh of India to the northwest. It shares its longest borders with Tibet to the north and Yunnan of China to the northeast for a total of 2,185 km (1,358 mi). It is bounded by Laos and Thailand to the southeast. Burma has 1,930 km (1,199 mi) of contiguous coastline along the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea to the southwest and the south, which forms one-third of its total perimeter.

In the north, the Hengduan Shan mountains form the border with China. Hkakabo Razi, located in Kachin State, at an elevation of 5,881 m (19,295 ft), is the highest point in Burma. Three mountain ranges, namely the Rakhine Yoma, the Bago Yoma, and the Shan Plateau exist within Burma, all of which run north-to-south from the Himalayas. The mountain chains divide Burma's three river systems, which are the Ayeyarwady, Salween (Thanlwin), and the Sittaung rivers. The Ayeyarwady River, Burma's longest river, nearly 2,170 kilometres (1,348 mi) long, flows into the Gulf of Martaban. Fertile plains exist in the valleys between the mountain chains. The majority of Burma's population lives in the Ayeyarwady valley, which is situated between the Rakhine Yoma and the Shan Plateau.

Much of the country lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator. It lies in the monsoon region of Asia, with its coastal regions receiving over 5,000 mm (200 in) of rain annually. Annual rainfall in the delta region is approximately 2,500 mm (100 in) , while average annual rainfall in the Dry Zone, which is located in central Burma, is less than 1,000 mm (40 in). Northern regions of the country are the coolest, with average temperatures of 21 °C (70 °F). Coastal and delta regions have mean temperatures of 32 °C (90 °F).

The country's slow economic growth has contributed to the preservation of much of its environment and ecosystems. Forests, including dense tropical growth and valuable teak in lower Burma, cover over 49% of the country. Other trees indigenous to the region include acacia, bamboo, ironwood, mangrove, michelia champaca coconut and betel palm, and rubber has been introduced. In the highlands of the north, oak, pine and various rhododendrons cover much of the land. The lands along the coast support all varieties of tropical fruits. In the Dry Zone, vegetation is sparse and stunted.

Typical jungle animals, particularly tigers and leopards, are common in Burma. In upper Burma, there are rhinoceros, wild buffalo, wild boars, deer, antelope and elephants, which are also tamed or bred in captivity for use as work animals, particularly in the lumber industry. Smaller mammals are also numerous, ranging from gibbons and monkeys to flying foxes and tapirs. The abundance of birds is notable with over 800 species, including parrots, peafowl, pheasants, crows, herons and paddybirds. Among reptile species there are crocodiles, geckos, cobras, Burmese pythons and turtles. Hundreds of species of freshwater fish are wide-ranging, plentiful and are very important food sources.

After the First Burmese War, the Ava kingdom ceded the provinces of Manipur, Tenassarim, and Arakan to the British. Rangoon and southern Burma were incorporated into British India in 1853. All of Burma came directly or indirectly under British India in 1886 after the Third Burmese War and the fall of Mandalay. Burma was administered as a province of British India until 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony. The country became independent from the United Kingdom on 4 January 1948, as the "Union of Burma". It became the "Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma" on 4 January 1974, before reverting to the "Union of Burma" on 23 September 1988. On 18 June 1989, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) adopted the name "Union of Myanmar" for English transliteration. This controversial name change in English, while accepted in the UN and in many countries, is not recognised by opposition groups and by nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States.

Archeological evidence suggests that civilization in the region which now forms Burma is quite old. The oldest archeological find made was of cave paintings and a Holocene assemblage in a hunther-gatherer cave site in Padah Lin in Shan State.

The Mon people are thought to be the earliest group to migrate into the lower Ayeyarwady valley, and by the mid-900s BC were dominant in southern Burma. The Mons became one of the first in South East Asia to embrace Theravada Buddhism.

The Tibeto-Burman speaking Pyu arrived later in the 1st century BC, and established several city states – of which Sri Ksetra was the most powerful – in central Ayeyarwady valley. The Mon and Pyu kingdoms were an active overland trade route between India and China. The Pyu kingdoms entered a period of rapid decline in early 9th century AD when the powerful kingdom of Nanzhao (in present-day Yunnan) invaded Ayeyarwady valley several times. In 835, Nanzhao decimated the Pyu by carrying off many captives to be used as conscripts.

Tibeto-Burman speaking Burmans, or the Bamar, began migrating to the Ayeyarwady valley from present-day Yunnan's Nanzhao kingdom starting in 7th century AD. Filling the power gap left by the Pyu, the Burmans established a small kingdom centred in Bagan in 849. But it was not until the reign of King Anawrahta (1044-1077) that Bagan's influence expanded throughout much of present-day Burma.

After Anawrahta's capture of the Mon capital of Thaton in 1057, the Burmans adopted Theravada Buddhism from the Mons. The Burmese script was created, based on the Mon script, during the reign of King Kyanzittha (1084-1112). Prosperous from trade, Bagan kings built many magnificent temples and pagodas throughout the country – many of which can still be seen today.

Bagan's power slowly waned in 13th century. Kublai Khan's Mongol forces invaded northern Burma starting in 1277, and sacked Bagan city itself in 1287. Bagan's over two century reign of Ayeyarwady valley and its periphery was over.

The Mongols could not stay for long in the searing Ayeyarwady valley. But the Tai-Shan people from Yunnan who came down with the Mongols fanned out to the Ayeyarwady valley, Shan states, Laos, Siam and Assam, and became powerful players in Southeast Asia.

This period was characterized by constant warfare between Ava and Bago, and to a lesser extent, Ava and the Shans. Ava briefly controlled Rakhine (1379-1430) and came close to defeating Bago a few times, but could never quite reassemble the lost empire. Nevertheless, Burmese culture entered a golden age. Hanthawady Bago prospered. Bago's Queen Shin Saw Bu (1453-1472) raised the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda to its present height.

By the late 15th century, constant warfare had left Ava greatly weakened. Its peripheral areas became either independent or autonomous. In 1486, King Minkyinyo (1486-1531) of Taungoo broke away from Ava and established a small independent kingdom. In 1527, Mohnyin (Shan: Mong Yang) Shans finally captured Ava, upsetting the delicate power balance that had existed for nearly two centuries. The Shans would rule Upper Burma until 1555.

Reinforced by fleeing Burmans from Ava, the minor Burman kingdom of Taungoo under its young, ambitious king Tabinshwehti (1531-1551) defeated the more powerful Mon kingdom at Bago, reunifying all of Lower Burma by 1540. Tabinshwehti's successor King Bayinnaung (1551-1581) would go on to conquer Upper Burma (1555), Manipur (1556), Shan states (1557), Chiang Mai (1557), Ayutthaya (1564, 1569) and Lan Xang (1574), bringing most of western South East Asia under his rule. Bayinnaung died in 1581, preparing to invade Rakhine, a maritime power controlling the entire coastline west of Rakhine Yoma, up to Chittagong province in Bengal.

Bayinnaung's massive empire unraveled soon after his death in 1581. Ayutthaya Siamese had driven out the Burmese by 1593 and went on to take Tanintharyi. In 1599, Rakhine forces aided by the Portuguese mercenaries sacked the kingdom's capital Bago. Chief Portuguese mercenary Filipe de Brito e Nicote (Burmese: Nga Zinga) promptly rebelled against his Rakhine masters and established Portuguese rule in Thanlyin (Syriam), then the most important seaport in Burma. The country was in chaos.

The Burmese under King Anaukpetlun (1605-1628) regrouped and defeated the Portuguese in 1611. Anaukpetlun reestablished a smaller reconstituted kingdom based in Ava covering Upper Burma, Lower Burma and Shan states (but without Rakhine or Taninthayi). After the reign of King Thalun (1629-1648), who rebuilt the war-torn country, the kingdom experienced a slow and steady decline for the next 100 years. The Mons successfully rebelled starting in 1740 with French help and Siamese encouragement, broke away Lower Burma by 1747, and finally put an end to the House of Taungoo in 1752 when they took Ava.

King Alaungpaya (1752-1760), established the Konbaung Dynasty in Shwebo in 1752. He founded Yangon in 1755. By his death in 1760, Alaungpaya had reunified the country. In 1767, King Hsinbyushin (1763-1777) sacked Ayutthya. The Qing Dynasty of China invaded four times from 1765 to 1769 without success. The Chinese invasions allowed the new Siamese kingdom based in Bangkok to repel the Burmese out of Siam by the late 1770s.

King Bodawpaya (1782-1819) failed repeatedly to reconquer Siam in 1780s and 1790s. Bodawpaya did manage to capture the western kingdom of Rakhine, which had been largely independent since the fall of Bagan, in 1784. Bodawpaya also formally annexed Manipur, a rebellion-prone protectorate, in 1813.

King Bagyidaw's (1819-1837) general Maha Bandula put down a rebellion in Manipur in 1819 and captured then independent kingdom of Assam in 1819 (again in 1821). The new conquests brought the Burmese adjacent to the British India. The British defeated the Burmese in the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826). Burma had to cede Assam, Manipur, Rakhine (Arakan) and Tanintharyi (Tenessarim).

In 1852, the British attacked a much weakened Burma during a Burmese palace power struggle. After the Second Anglo-Burmese War, which lasted 3 months, the British had captured the remaining coastal provinces: Ayeyarwady, Yangon and Bago, naming the territories as Lower Burma.

King Mindon (1853-1878) founded Mandalay in 1859 and made it his capital. He skillfully navigated the growing threats posed by the competing interests of Britain and France. In the process, Mindon had to renounce Kayah (Karenni) states in 1875. His successor, King Thibaw (1878-1885), was largely ineffectual. In 1885, the British, alarmed by the French conquest of neighboring Laos, occupied Upper Burma. The Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885) lasted a mere one month insofar as capturing the capital Mandalay was concerned. The Burmese royal family was exiled to Ratnagiri, India. British forces spent at least another four years pacifying the country – not only in the Burman heartland but also in the Shan, Chin and Kachin hill areas. By some accounts, minor insurrections did not end until 1896.

The United Kingdom began conquering Burma in 1824. For a period of sixty-two years, Burma was under British control. By 1886, Britain had incorporated it into the British Raj. Burma was administered as a province of British India until 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony. To stimulate trade and facilitate changes, the British brought in Indians and Chinese, who quickly displaced the Burmese in urban areas. To this day Yangon and Mandalay have large ethnic Indian populations. Railroads and schools were built, as well as a large number of prisons, including the infamous Insein Prison, then as now used for political prisoners. Burmese resentment was strong and was vented in violent riots that paralyzed Yangon on occasion all the way until the 1930s. Much of the discontent was caused by a perceived disrespect for Burmese culture and traditions, for example, what the British termed the Shoe Question: the colonizers' refusal to remove their shoes upon entering Buddhist temples or other holy places. In October 1919, Eindawya Pagoda in Mandalay was the scene of violence when tempers flared after scandalized Buddhist monks attempted to physically expel a group of shoe-wearing British visitors. The leader of the monks was later sentenced to life imprisonment for attempted murder. Such incidents inspired the Burmese resistance to use Buddhism as a rallying point for their cause. Buddhist monks became the vanguards of the independence movement, and many died while protesting. One monk-turned-martyr was U Wisara, who died in prison after a 166-day hunger strike to protest a rule that forbade him from wearing his Buddhist robes while imprisoned.

Eric Blair, better known as the writer George Orwell, served in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma for five years and wrote about his experiences. An earlier writer with the same convoluted career path was Saki. During the colonial period, intermarriage between European male settlers and Burmese women, as well as between Anglo-Indians (who arrived with the British) and Burmese caused the birth of the Anglo-Burmese community. This influential community was to dominate the country during colonial rule and through the mid 1960's.

On 1 April 1937, Burma became a separately administered territory, independent of the Indian administration. The vote for keeping Burma in India, or as a separate colony "khwe-yay-twe-yay" divided the populace, and laid the ground work for the insurgencies to come after independence. In the 1940s, the Thirty Comrades, commanded by Aung San, founded the Burma Independence Army. The Thirty Comrades received training in Japan.

During World War II, Burma became a major frontline in the Southeast Asian Theatre. The British administration collapsed ahead of the advancing Japanese troops, jails and asylums were opened and Rangoon was deserted except for the many Anglo-Burmese and Indians who remained at their posts. A stream of some 300,000 refugees fled across the jungles into India; known as 'The Trek', all but 30,000 of those 300,000 arrived in India. Initially the Japanese-led Burma Campaign succeeded and the British were expelled from most of Burma, but the British counter-attacked using primarily troops of the British Indian Army. By July 1945, the British had retaken the country. Although many Burmese fought initially for the Japanese, some Burmese, mostly from the ethnic minorities, also served in the British Burma Army. In 1943, the Chin Levies and Kachin Levies were formed in the border districts of Burma still under British administration. The Burma Rifles fought as part of the Chindits under General Orde Wingate from 1943-1945. Later in the war, the Americans created American-Kachin Rangers who also fought against the Japanese. Many others fought with the British Special Operations Executive. The Burma Independence Army under the command of Aung San and the Arakan National Army fought with the Japanese from 1942-1944, but switched allegiance to the Allied side in 1945.

In 1947, Aung San became Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council of Burma, a transitional government. But in July 1947, political rivals assassinated Aung San and several cabinet members.

On 4 January 1948, the nation became an independent republic, named the Union of Burma, with Sao Shwe Thaik as its first President and U Nu as its first Prime Minister. Unlike most other former British colonies and overseas territories, it did not become a member of the Commonwealth. A bicameral parliament was formed, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Nationalities.

The geographical area Burma encompasses today can be traced to the Panglong Agreement, which combined Burma Proper, which consisted of Lower Burma and Upper Burma, and the Frontier Areas, which had been administered separately by the British.

In 1961, U Thant, then the Union of Burma's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and former Secretary to the Prime Minister, was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations; he was the first non-Westerner to head any international organization and would serve as UN Secretary-General for ten years. Among the Burmese to work at the UN when he was Secretary-General was a young Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel peace prize.

Democratic rule ended in 1962 when General Ne Win led a military coup d'état. He ruled for nearly 26 years and pursued policies under the rubric of the Burmese Way to Socialism. Between 1962 and 1974, Burma was ruled by a revolutionary council headed by the general, and almost all aspects of society (business, media, production) were nationalized or brought under government control (including the Boy Scouts). In an effort to consolidate power, General Ne Win and many top generals resigned from the military and took civilian posts and, from 1974, instituted elections in a one party system.

Between 1974 and 1988, Burma was effectively ruled by General Ne Win through the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP)., which from 1964 until 1988 was the sole political party. During this period, Burma became one of the world's most impoverished countries. The Burmese Way to Socialism combined Soviet-style nationalization and central planning with the governmental implementation of superstitious beliefs. Criticism was scathing, such as an article published in a February 1974 issue of Newsweek magazine describing the Burmese Way to Socialism as 'an amalgam of Buddhist and Marxist illogic'.

Almost from the beginning there were sporadic protests against the military rule, many of which were organized by students, and these were almost always violently suppressed by the government. On July 7, 1962 the government broke up demonstrations at Rangoon University killing 15 students. In 1974, the military violently suppressed anti-government protests at the funeral of U Thant. Student protests in 1975, 1976 and 1977 were quickly suppressed by overwhelming force.

A new constitution of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma was adopted in 1974.

In 1988, unrest over economic mismanagement and political oppression by the government led to widespread pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the country known as the 8888 Uprising. Security forces killed thousands of demonstrators, and General Saw Maung staged a coup d'état and formed the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In 1989, SLORC declared martial law after widespread protests. The military government finalized plans for People's Assembly elections on 31 May 1989.

SLORC changed the country's official English name from the "Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma" to the "Union of Myanmar" in 1989.

In May 1990, the government held free elections for the first time in almost 30 years. The National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, won 392 out of a total 489 seats, but the election results were annulled by SLORC, which refused to step down. Led by Than Shwe since 1992, the military regime has made cease-fire agreements with most ethnic guerrilla groups. In 1992, SLORC unveiled plans to create a new constitution through the National Convention, which began 9 January 1993. In 1997, the State Law and Order Restoration Council was renamed the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

On 23 June 1997, Burma was admitted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The National Convention continues to convene and adjourn. Many major political parties, particularly the NLD, have been absent or excluded, and little progress has been made. On 27 March 2006, the military junta, which had moved the national capital from Yangon to a site near Pyinmana in November 2005, officially named the new capital Naypyidaw, meaning "city of the kings". The CIA World Factbook, however, still considers the capital to be Rangoon.

In November 2006, the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced it will be seeking - at the International Court of Justice. - "to prosecute members of the ruling Myanmar junta for crimes against humanity" over the continuous forced labour of its citizens by the military. According to the ILO, an estimated 800,000 people are subject to forced labour in Myanmar.

The 2007 Burmese anti-government protests were a series of anti-government protests that started in Burma on August 15, 2007. The immediate cause of the protests was mainly the unannounced decision of the ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council, to remove fuel subsidies which caused the price of diesel and petrol to suddenly rise as much as 100%, and the price of compressed natural gas for buses to increase fivefold in less than a week. The protest demonstrations were at first dealt with quickly and harshly by the junta, with dozens of protesters arrested and detained. Starting September 18, the protests had been led by thousands of Buddhist monks, and those protests had been allowed to proceed until a renewed government crackdown on September 26. During the crack-down, there were rumors of disagreement within the Burmese military, but none were confirmed. Some news reports referred to the protests as the Saffron Revolution.

During 2007 anti-government protests a significant role was played by Mrs. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition to the Burmese military government. Mrs. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had been under strict house arrest since 1989. In September 2007 hundreds of monks paid respects to her at the gate of her home, which was the first time in four years that people were able to see her in public. She was then given a second public appearance on Sept. 29, when she was allowed to leave house arrest briefly and meet with a UN envoy trying to persuade the junta to ease its crackdown against a pro-democracy uprising, to which the Myanmar government reluctantly agreed. In addition, in 1991, Mrs. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize for her nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights.

On 7 February 2008, SPDC announced that a referendum for the Constitution would be held, and Elections by 2010. The Burmese constitutional referendum, 2008 was held on May 10 and promised a "discipline-flourishing democracy" for the country in the future.

World governments remain divided on how to deal with the military junta. Calls for further sanctions by Canada, United Kingdom, United States, and France are opposed by neighboring countries; in particular, China has stated its belief that "sanctions or pressure will not help to solve the issue".

Burma is governed by a strict military dictatorship. The current head of state is Senior General Than Shwe, who holds the posts of "Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council" and "Commander in Chief of the Defense Services" as well as the Minister of Defence. General Khin Nyunt was prime minister until 19 October 2004, when he was replaced by General Soe Win, after the purge of Military Intelligence sections within the Burma armed forces. The current Prime Minister is General Thein Sein, who took over upon the death of General Soe Win on October 2, 2007. The majority of ministry and cabinet posts are held by military officers, with the exceptions being the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labour, and the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, posts which are held by civilians.

Elected delegates in the 1990 People's Assembly election formed the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), a government-in-exile since December 1990, with the mission of restoring democracy. Dr. Sein Win, a first cousin of Aung San Suu Kyi, has held the position of prime minister of the NCGUB since its inception. The NCGUB has been outlawed by the military government.

Major political parties in the country are the National League for Democracy and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, although their activities are heavily regulated and suppressed by the military government. Many other parties, often representing ethnic minorities, exist. The military government allows little room for political organizations and has outlawed many political parties and underground student organizations. The military supported the National Unity Party in the 1990 elections and, more recently, an organization named the Union Solidarity and Development Association.

In 1988, the army violently repressed protests against economic mismanagement and political oppression. On 8 August 1988, the military opened fire on demonstrators in what is known as 8888 Uprising and imposed martial law. However, the 1988 protests paved way for the 1990 People's Assembly elections. The election results were subsequently annulled by Senior General Saw Maung's government. The National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won over 60% of the vote and over 80% of parliamentary seats in the 1990 election, the first held in 30 years. The military-backed National Unity Party won less than 2% of the seats. Aung San Suu Kyi has earned international recognition as an activist for the return of democratic rule, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. The ruling regime has repeatedly placed her under house arrest. Despite a direct appeal by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to Senior General Than Shwe and pressure by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the military junta extended Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest another year on 27 May 2006 under the 1975 State Protection Act, which grants the government the right to detain any persons on the grounds of protecting peace and stability in the country. The junta faces increasing pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom. Burma's situation was referred to the UN Security Council for the first time in December 2005 for an informal consultation. In September 2006, ten of the United Nations Security Council's 15 members voted to place Myanmar on the council's formal agenda. On Independence Day, 4 January 2007, the government released 40 political prisoners, under a general amnesty, in which 2,831 prisoners were released. On 8 January 2007, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the national government to free all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Three days later, on 11 January, five additional prisoners were released from prison.

ASEAN has also stated its frustration with the Union of Myanmar's government. It has formed the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus to address the lack of democratisation in the country. Dramatic change in the country's political situation remains unlikely, due to support from major regional powers such as India, Russia, and, in particular, China.

In the annual ASEAN Summit in January 2007, held in Cebu, Philippines, member countries failed to find common ground on the issue of Burma's lack of political reform. During the summit, ASEAN foreign ministers asked Burma to make greater progress on its roadmap toward democracy and national reconciliation. Some member countries contend that Burma's human rights issues are the country's own domestic affairs, while others contend that its poor human rights record is an international issue.

Burma's army-drafted constitution was overwhelmingly approved (by 92.4% of the 22 million voters with alleged voter turnout of 99%) on May 10 in the first phase of a two-stage referendum amid Cyclone Nargis. It was the first national vote since the 1990 election. Multi-party elections in 2010 would end 5 decades of military rule, as the new charter gives the military an automatic 25% of seats in parliament. NLD spokesman Nyan Win, inter alia, criticized the referendum: "This referendum was full of cheating and fraud across the country; In some villages, authorities and polling station officials ticked the ballots themselves and did not let the voters do anything." The constitution would bar Aung San Suu Kyi, from public office. 5 million citizens will vote May 24 in Yangon and the Irrawaddy delta, worst hit by Cyclone Nargis. Burma is one of the countries with the highest level of corruption worldwide.

Human rights in Burma are a long-standing concern for the international community and human rights organizations. There is general agreement that the military regime in Burma is one of the world's most repressive and abusive regimes.

Several human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have reported on human rights abuses by the military government. They have claimed that there is no independent judiciary in Burma. The military government restricts Internet access through software-based censorship that limits the material citizens can access on-line. Forced labour, human trafficking, and child labour are common. The military is also notorious for rampant use of sexual violence as an instrument of control, including systematic rapes and taking of sex slaves as porters for the military. A strong women's pro-democracy movement has formed in exile, largely along the Thai border and in Chiang Mai. There is a growing international movement to defend women's human rights issues.

Evidence has been gathered suggesting that the Burmese regime has marked certain ethnic minorities such as the Karen for extermination or 'Burmisation'. This, however, has received little attention from the international community since it has been more subtle and indirect than the mass killings in places like Rwanda.

In April 2007, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified financial and other restrictions that the military government places on international humanitarian assistance. The GAO report, entitled "Assistance Programs Constrained in Burma", outlined the specific efforts of the government to hinder the humanitarian work of international organizations, including restrictions on the free movement of international staff within the country. The report notes that the regime has tightened its control over assistance work since former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt was purged in October 2004. The military junta passed guidelines in February 2006, which formalized these restrictive policies. According to the report, the guidelines require that programs run by humanitarian groups "enhance and safeguard the national interest" and that international organizations coordinate with state agents and select their Burmese staff from government-prepared lists of individuals. United Nations officials have declared these restrictions unacceptable.

Burma's government spends the least percentage of its GDP on health care of any country in the world, and international donor organizations give less to Burma, per capita, than any other country except India. According to the report named "Preventable Fate", published by Doctors without Borders (also known as MSF), 25,000 Burmese AIDS patients died in 2007, deaths that could largely have been prevented by Anti Retorviral Therapy drugs and proper treatment.

The country is divided into seven states (pyine) and seven divisions (yin). Divisions (တိုင္း) are predominantly Bamar. States (), in essence, are divisions which are home to particular ethnic minorities. The administrative divisions are further subdivided into districts, which are further subdivided into townships, wards, and villages.

The country's foreign relations, particularly with Western nations, have been strained. The United States has placed a ban on new investments by U.S. firms, an import ban, and an arms embargo on the Union of Myanmar, as well as frozen military assets in the United States because of the military regime's ongoing human rights abuses, the ongoing detention of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, and refusal to honor the election results of the 1990 People's Assembly election. Similarly, the European Union has placed sanctions on Burma, including an arms embargo, cessation of trade preferences, and suspension of all aid with the exception of humanitarian aid. U.S. and European government sanctions against the military government, coupled with boycotts and other direct pressure on corporations by western supporters of the democracy movement, have resulted in the withdrawal from the country of most U.S. and many European companies. However, several Western companies remain due to loopholes in the sanctions.

Despite Western isolation, Asian corporations have generally remained willing to continue investing in the country and to initiate new investments, particularly in natural resource extraction. The country has close relations with neighboring India and China with several Indian and Chinese companies operating in the country. There remains active debate as to the extent to which the American-led sanctions have had adverse effects on the civilian population or on the military rulers. Burma has also received extensive military aid from India and China in the past. According to some estimates, Burma has received more than US$200 million in military aid from India. Under India's Look East policy, fields of cooperation between India and Burma include remote sensing, oil and gas exploration, information technology, hydro power and construction of ports and buildings. In 2008, India suspended military aid to Burma over the issue of human rights abuses by the ruling junta, although it has preserved extensive commercial ties which provide the regime with much needed revenue.

The country's armed forces are known as the Tatmadaw, which numbers 488,000. The Tatmadaw comprises the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. The country ranked twelfth in the world for its number of active troops in service. The military is very influential in the country, with top cabinet and ministry posts held by military officers. Official figures for military spending are not available. Estimates vary widely because of uncertain exchange rates, but military spending is very high. The country imports most of its weapons from Russia, Ukraine, China and India.

The country is building a research nuclear reactor near May Myo (Pyin Oo Lwin) with help from Russia. It is one of the signatories of the nuclear non-proliferation pact since 1992 and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 1957. The military junta had informed the IAEA in September 2000 of its intention to construct the reactor. The research reactor outbuilding frame was built by ELE steel industries limited of Yangon and water from Anisakhan/BE water fall will be used for the reactor cavity cooling system.

ASEAN will not defend the country in any international forum following the military regime's refusal to restore democracy. In April 2007, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry parliamentary secretary Ahmad Shabery Cheek said Malaysia and other ASEAN members had decided not to defend Burma if the country's issue was raised for discussion at any international conference. "Now Myanmar has to defend itself if it is bombarded in any international forum," he said when winding up a debate at committee stage for the Foreign Ministry. He was replying to queries from opposition leader Lim Kit Siang on the next course of action to be taken by Malaysia and ASEAN with the military junta. Lim had said Malaysia must play a proactive role in pursuing regional initiatives to bring about a change in Burma and support efforts to bring the situation in Burma to the UN Security Council's attention.. In November 2008, Burma's political situation with neighboring Bangladesh became tense as they began searching for natural gas in a disputed block of the Bay of Bengal.

Until 2005, the United Nations General Assembly annually adopted a detailed resolution about the situation in Burma by consensus. But in 2006 a divided United Nations General Assembly voted through a resolution that strongly called upon the government of Burma to end its systematic violations of human rights. In January 2007, Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution before the United Nations Security Council calling on the government of Myanmar to respect human rights and begin a democratic transition. South Africa also voted against the resolution.

The country is a corner of the Golden Triangle of opium production. In 1996 the United States Embassy in Rangoon released a "Country Commercial Guide", which states "Exports of opiates alone appear to be worth about as much as all legal exports." It goes on to say that investments in infrastructure and hotels are coming from major opiate-growing and opiate-exporting organizations and from those with close ties to these organizations. A four-year investigation concluded that Burma's national company Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) was "the main channel for laundering the revenues of heroin produced and exported under the control of the Burmese army." The main player in the country's drug market is the United Wa State Army, ethnic fighters who control areas along the country's eastern border with Thailand, part of the infamous Golden Triangle. The Wa army, an ally of Burma's ruling military junta, was once the militant arm of the Beijing-backed Burmese Communist Party. Burma has been a significant cog in the transnational drug trade since World War II. The number of hectares used to grow the crops increased 29% in 2007. A United Nations report cites corruption, poverty and a lack of government control as causes for the jump.

The country is one of the poorest nations in southeastern Asia, suffering from decades of stagnation, mismanagement and isolation. Burma's GDP grows at an average rate of 2.9% annually – the lowest rate of economic growth in the Greater Mekong Subregion.

Under British administration and until the early 1960s, Burma was the wealthiest country in Southeast Asia. It was once the world's largest exporter of rice. During British administration, Burma supplied oil through the Burmah Oil Company. Burma also had a wealth of natural and labor resources. It produced 75% of the world's teak and had a highly literate population. The country was believed to be on the fast track to development.

After a parliamentary government was formed in 1948, Prime Minister U Nu disastrously attempted to make Burma a welfare state and adopted central planning. Rice exports fell by two thirds and mineral exports by over 96%. Plans were partly financed by printing money, which led to inflation. The 1962 coup d'état was followed by an economic scheme called the Burmese Way to Socialism, a plan to nationalize all industries, with the exception of agriculture. The catastrophic program turned Burma into one of the world's most impoverished countries. Burma's admittance to Least Developed Country status by the UN in 1987 highlighted its economic bankruptcy.

After 1988, the regime retreated from totalitarian socialism. It permitted modest expansion of the private sector, allowed some foreign investment, and received needed foreign exchange. The economy is still rated as the least free in Asia (tied with North Korea). All fundamental market institutions are suppressed. Private enterprises are often co-owned or indirectly owned by state. The corruption watchdog organization Transparency International in its 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index released on September 26, 2007 ranked Burma the most corrupt country in the world, tied with Somalia.

In recent years, both China and India have attempted to strengthen ties with the government for economic benefit. Many nations, including the United States and Canada, and the European Union, have imposed investment and trade sanctions on Burma. The United States has banned all imports from Burma. Foreign investment comes primarily from People's Republic of China, Singapore, South Korea, India, and Thailand.

The major agricultural product is rice which covers about 60% of the country's total cultivated land area. Rice accounts for 97% of total food grain production by weight. Through collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), 52 modern rice varieties were released in the country between 1966 and 1997, helping increase national rice production to 14 million tons in 1987 and to 19 million tons in 1996. By 1988, modern varieties were planted on half of the country's ricelands, including 98 percent of the irrigated areas.

The lack of an educated workforce skilled in modern technology contributes to the growing problems of the economy.

Today, the country lacks adequate infrastructure. Goods travel primarily across the Thai border, where most illegal drugs are exported and along the Ayeyarwady River. Railroads are old and rudimentary, with few repairs since their construction in the late nineteenth century. Highways are normally unpaved, except in the major cities. Energy shortages are common throughout the country including in Yangon. Burma is also the world's second largest producer of opium, accounting for 8% of entire world production and is a major source of illegal drugs, including amphetamines. Other industries include agricultural goods, textiles, wood products, construction materials, gems, metals, oil and natural gas.

The Union of Myanmar's rulers depend on sales of precious stones such as sapphires, pearls and jade to fund their regime. Rubies are the biggest earner; 90% of the world's rubies come from the country, whose red stones are prized for their purity and hue. Thailand buys the majority of the country's gems. Burma's "Valley of Rubies", the mountainous Mogok area, 200 km (125 miles) north of Mandalay, is noted for its rare pigeon's blood rubies and blue sapphires.

Since 1992, the government has encouraged tourism in the country. However, fewer than 750,000 tourists enter the country annually. Aung San Suu Kyi has requested that international tourists not visit Burma. The junta's forced labour programmes were focused around tourist destinations which have been heavily criticised for their human rights records. Burma’s Minister of Hotels and Tourism Maj-Gen Saw Lwin has stated that the government receives a significant percentage of the income of private sector tourism services. Much of the country is completely off-limits to tourists, and the military very tightly controls interactions between foreigners and the people of Burma. They are not to discuss politics with foreigners, under penalty of imprisonment, and in 2001, the Myanmar Tourism Promotion Board issued an order for local officials to protect tourists and limit "unnecessary contact" between foreigners and ordinary Burmese people.

Burma is one of three countries that still predominately uses a non-metric system of measure. Aside from a few imperial units, the common units of measure are unique to Burma, see Burmese units of measurement for more information.

Burma has a population of about 56 million. Current population figures are rough estimates because the last partial census, conducted by the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs under the control of the military junta, was taken in 1983. No trustworthy nationwide census has been taken in Burma since 1931. There are over 600,000 registered migrant workers from Burma in Thailand, and millions more work illegally. Burmese migrant workers account for 80% of Thailand's migrant workers. Burma has a population density of 75 inhabitants per square kilometre (194/sq mi), one of the lowest in Southeast Asia. Refugee camps exist along Indian, Bangladeshi and Thai borders while several thousand are in Malaysia. Conservative estimates state that there are over 295,800 refugees from Burma, with the majority being Rohingya, Kayin, and Karenni.

Burma is home to four major linguistic families: Sino-Tibetan, Kradai, Austro-Asiatic, and Indo-European. Sino-Tibetan languages are most widely spoken. They include Burmese, Karen, Kachin, Chin, and Chinese. The primary Kradai language is Shan. Mon, Palaung, and Wa are the major Austroasiatic languages spoken in Burma. The two major Indo-European languages are Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism, and English.

According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, Burma's official literacy rate as of 2000 was 89.9%. Historically, Burma has had high literacy rates. To qualify for least developed country status by the UN in order to receive debt relief, Burma lowered its official literacy rate from 78.6% to 18.7% in 1987.

Burma is ethnically diverse. The government recognizes 135 distinct ethnic groups. While it is extremely difficult to verify this statement, there are at least 108 different ethnolinguistic groups in Burma, consisting mainly of distinct Tibeto-Burman peoples, but with sizable populations of Daic, Hmong-Mien, and Austroasiatic (Mon-Khmer) peoples. The Bamar form an estimated 68% of the population. 10% of the population are Shan. The Kayin make up 7% of the population. The Rakhine people constitute 4% of the population. Overseas Chinese form approximately 3% of the population. Mon, who form 2% of the population, are ethno-linguistically related to the Khmer. Overseas Indians comprise 2%. The remainder are Kachin, Chin, Anglo-Indians and other ethnic minorities. Included in this group are the Anglo-Burmese. Once forming a large and influential community, the Anglo-Burmese left the country in steady streams from 1958 onwards, principally to Australia and the U.K.. Today, it is estimated that only 52,000 Anglo-Burmese remain in the country.

89% of the country's population are Buddhist, according to a report on abc World News Tonight in May 2008.

A diverse range of indigenous cultures exist in Burma, the majority culture is primarily Buddhist and Bamar. Bamar culture has been influenced by the cultures of neighbouring countries. This is manifested in its language, cuisine, music, dance and theatre. The arts, particularly literature, have historically been influenced by the local form of Theravada Buddhism. Considered the national epic of Burma, the Yama Zatdaw, an adaptation of Ramayana, has been influenced greatly by Thai, Mon, and Indian versions of the play. Buddhism is practiced along with nat worship which involves elaborate rituals to propitiate one from a pantheon of 37 nats.

In a traditional village, the monastery is the centre of cultural life. Monks are venerated and supported by the lay people. A novitiation ceremony called shinbyu is the most important coming of age events for a boy when he enters the monastery for a short period of time. All boys of Buddhist family need to be a novice (beginner for Buddhism) before the age of twenty and to be a monk after the age of twenty. It is compulsory for all boys of Buddhism. The duration can be as little as one week. Girls have ear-piercing ceremonies () at the same time. Burmese culture is most evident in villages where local festivals are held throughout the year, the most important being the pagoda festival. Many villages have a guardian nat, and superstition and taboos are commonplace.

British colonial rule also introduced Western elements of culture to Burma. Burma's educational system is modelled after that of the United Kingdom. Colonial architectural influences are most evident in major cities such as Yangon. Many ethnic minorities, particularly the Karen in the southeast, and the Kachin and Chin who populate the north and northwest, practice Christianity.. According to CIA World Factbook, the Burman population is 68%, and the Ethnic groups comprise of 32%. However, the exiled leaders and organizations claims that Ethnic population is 40% which is implicitly contrasted with CIA report (official U.S report).

Burmese, the mother tongue of the Bamar and official language of Burma, is related to Tibetan and to the Chinese languages. It is written in a script consisting of circular and semi-circular letters, which were adapted from the Mon script, which in turn was developed from a southern Indian script in the 700s. The earliest known inscriptions in the Burmese script date from the 1000s. It is also used to write Pali, the sacred language of Theravada Buddhism, as well as several ethnic minority languages, including Shan, several Karen dialects, and Kayah (Karenni), with the addition of specialised characters and diacritics for each language. The Burmese language incorporates widespread usage of honorifics and is age-oriented. Burmese society has traditionally stressed the importance of education. In villages, secular schooling often takes place in monasteries. Secondary and tertiary education take place at government schools.

Many religions are practiced in Burma. Religious edifices and orders have been in existence for many years. Festivals can be held on a grand scale. The Christian and Muslim populations do, however, face religious persecution and it is hard, if not impossible, for non-Buddhists to join the army or get government jobs, the main route to success in the country. Such persecution and targeting of civilians is particularly notable in Eastern Burma, where over 3000 villages have been destroyed in the past ten years.

Eighty-nine percent of the population embraces Buddhism (mostly Theravada), but other religions can be practiced freely. Four percent of the population practices Christianity; 4 percent, Islam; 1 percent, traditional animistic beliefs; and 2 percent follow other religions, including Mahayana Buddhism, Hinduism, Chinese religions and the Bahá'í religion. However, according to a U.S. State Department’s 2006 international religious freedom report, official statistics underestimate the non-Buddhist population which could be as high as 30%. Muslim leaders estimated that approximately 20 percent of the population was Muslim.

The educational system of Burma is operated by the government Ministry of Education. Universities and professional institutes from upper Burma and lower Burma are run by two separate entities, the Department of Higher Education of Upper Burma and the Department of Higher Education of Lower Burma. Headquarters are based in Yangon and Mandalay respectively. The education system is based on the United Kingdom's system, due to nearly a century of British and Christian presences in Burma. Nearly all schools are government-operated, but there has been a recent increase in privately funded English language schools. Schooling is compulsory until the end of elementary school, probably about 9 years old, while the compulsory schooling age is 15 or 16 at international level.

There are 101 universities, 12 institutes, 9 degree colleges and 24 colleges in Burma, a total of 146 higher education institutions.

There are 10 Technical Training Schools, 23 nursing training schools, 1 sport academy and 20 midwifery schools.

There are 2047 Basic Education High Schools, 2605 Basic Education Middle Schools, 29944 Basic Education Primary Schools and 5952 Post Primary Schools. 1692 multimedia classrooms exist within this system.

There are two international schools which are acknowledged by WASC and College Board - Yangon International School (YIS) and Yangon International Educare Center (YIEC) in Yangon.

Due to Burma's political climate, there are not many media companies in relation to the country's population, although a certain number exists. Some are privately owned, but all have to go through the censorship board.

For dependent and other territories, see Dependent territory.

1 Partly or significantly in Europe.  2 The Republic of China (Taiwan) is not officially recognized by the United Nations; see Political status of Taiwan. 3 Partly or significantly in Africa.  4 Partly or wholly reckoned in Oceania.

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8888 Uprising

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The 8888 Uprising (Burmese: ၈-၄လုံး or ရှစ်လေးလုံး; MLCTS: hrac le: lum: also known as the People Power Uprising) was a national revolution in Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma (today commonly known as Burma or Myanmar) demanding democracy in 1988. The uprising began on August 8, 1988, and from this date (8-8-88), it is known as the "8888 Uprising".

Since 1962, the country was ruled by the Burma Socialist Programme Party regime as a one-party state, headed by General Ne Win. The catastrophic Burmese Way to Socialism had turned Burma into one of the world's most impoverished countries. Almost everything was nationalized and the government combined Soviet-style of central planning with superstitious beliefs. In an article published in a February 1974 issue of Newsweek magazine, the Burmese Way to Socialism was described as 'an amalgam of Buddhist and Marxist illogic'.

The 8888 uprising was started by students in Yangon (Rangoon) on August 8, 1988. Student protests spread throughout the country. Hundreds of thousands of ocher-robed monks, young children, university students, housewives, doctors demonstrated against the regime. The uprising ended on September 18, after a bloody military coup by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Thousands, mostly Buddhist monks and civilians (primarily students) were slaughtered by the Tatmadaw.

During the crisis, Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as a national icon. When the military junta arranged an election in 1990, her party, the National League for Democracy, won. However, the military junta refused to recognize the results and placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. The State Law and Order Restoration Council would be a cosmetic change from the Burma Socialist Programme Party.

Before the crisis, Burma had been ruled by the repressive and isolated regime of General Ne Win since 1962. The country had a national debt of $3.5 billion and currency reserves of between $20 and $35 million, with debt service ratios standing at 50% of the national budget. In November 1985, students gathered and boycotted the government's decision to withdraw Burmese local currency notes. Economic problems coupled with counter-insurgency required continuous involvement in the international market.

On 5 September 1987, Ne Win announced the withdrawal of the newly-replaced currency notes, 100, 75, 35 and 25 kyats, leaving only 45 and 90 kyat notes, apparently because only the latter two are numbers divisible by 9, considered lucky by Ne Win. Students were particularly angry at the government's decision as savings for tuition fees were wiped out instantly. Students from the Rangoon Institute of Technology (RIT) ran riot through Rangoon, smashing windows and traffic lights down Insein road. Universites in Rangoon closed and sent students home. Meanwhile, larger protests in Mandalay involved monks and workers, with some burning government buildings and state businesses. Burmese state media reported little on the protests, but information quickly spread through the students.

With the re-opening of schools in late October 1987, underground groups in Rangoon and Mandalay produced dissident leaflets which culmulated in bombs exploding in November. Police later received threatening letters from underground groups, who organised small protests around the university campus. After securing Least Developed Country status from the United Nations Economic and Social Council in December 1987, government policy requiring farmers to sell produce below market rates to create greater revenue for the government sparked several, violent rural protests.The protests were fanned by public letters to Ne Win by former second in command General Brigadier Aung Gyi from July 1987, reminding him of the 1967 rice riots and condemning lack of economic reform, describing Burma as "almost a joke" compared to other Southeast Asian nations. He was later arrested.

On 12 March 1988, students from the RIT were arguing with out-of-school youths inside the Sanda Win tea shop about music playing on a sound system. The drunken youth would not return a tape that the RIT students favored. A brawl followed in which one youth, who was the son of a BSPP official, was arrested and later released for injuring a student. Students protested at a local police department where 500 riot police were mobilized and in the ensuing clash, one student, Phone Maw, was shot and killed. The incident angered pro-democracy groups and the next day more students rallied at the RIT and spread to other campuses. The students, who had never protested before, increasingly saw themselves as activists. There was growing resentment towards the military rule and there were no channels to address grievances - further exasperated by police brutality, economic mismanagement and corruption within the government. By mid March, several protests had occurred and there was open dissent in the army. Various demonstrations were broken up by using tear gas canisters to disperse crowds. On March 16, students demanding an end to one party rule marched towards soldiers at Inya Lake when riot police stormed from the rear, clubbing several students to death and raping others. Several students recalled the police shouting, "Don't let them escape" and "Kill them!". Stories, some of which were later found out to have been fabricated, were circulating of the events of that day and quickly spread gaining popular support for the movement. Unrest over economic mismanagement and political oppression by the government led to widespread pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the country.

Following the latest protests, authorities announced the closure of universities for several months. By June 1988, large demonstrations of students and sympathisers were a daily sight. Many students, sympathisers and riot police died throughout the month as the protests spread throughout Burma from Rangoon. Large scale civil unrest was reported in Pegu, Mandalay, Tavoy, Toungoo, Sittwe, Pakokku, Mergui, Minbu and Myitkyina. Demonstraters in larger numbers demanded multi-party democracy, which marked Ne Wins resignation on July 23, 1988. In a valedictory address, on July 23, 1988 affirmed that "When the army shoots, it shoots to kill." He also promised a multi-party system, but he had appointed the largely disliked Sein Lwin, known as the "Butcher of Rangoon". to head a new government.

Protests reached their peak in August 1988. Students planned for a nationwide demonstration on August 8, 1988, an auspicious date based on numerological significance. News of the protest reached rural areas and four days prior to the national protest, students across the country were denouncing Sein Lwin's regime and Tatmadaw troops were being mobilized. Pamphlets and posters appeared on the streets of Rangoon bearing the fighting peacock isignia of the All-Burma Students Union. Neighbourhood and strike committees were openly formed on the advice of underground activists, many of which were influenced by similar underground movements by workers and monks in the 1980s. Between August 2-10, co-ordinated protests were occurring in most Burmese towns. During this period, dissident newspapers were freely publishing, fighting-peacock banners were unfurled, synchronised marches were held and rally speakers were protected. In Rangoon, the first signs of the movement began around the Buddhist full moon of Waso at the Shwedagon Pagoda when student demonstrators emerged demanding support for the demonstrations. Neighbourhood and strike committees barricaded and defended neighbourhoods and mobilised further demonstrations. In some areas, committees built makeshift stages where speakers addressed the crowds and brought donations to support rallies.

In the first few days of the Rangoon protests, activists contacted lawyers and monks in Mandalay to encourage them to take part in the protests. The students were quickly joined by Burmese citizens from all walks of life, including government workers, Buddhist monks, air force and navy personnel, customs officers, teachers and hospital staff. The demonstrations in the streets of Rangoon became a focal point for other demonstrations, which spread to other states' capitals. 10,000 protesters alone demonstrated outside the Sule Pagoda in Rangoon, where demonstrators burned and buried effigies of Ne Win and Sein Lwin in coffins decorated with demonetized bank notes. Further protests took place around the country at stadiums and hospitals. Monks at the Sule Pagoda reported that the Buddha's image had changed shape, with an image in the sky standing on its head. On August 3, the authorities imposed martial law from 8am to 4pm and a ban on gatherings of more than five people.

A general strike, as planned, began on August 8, 1988. Mass demonstrations were held across Burma as ethnic minories, Buddhists, Muslims, students, workers and the young and old all demonstrated. The first procession circled Rangoon, stopping for people to speak. A stage was also erected. Demonstrators from the Rangoon neighbourhoods converged in downtown Rangoon. Only one casualty was reported at this point as a frightened traffic policeman fired into the crowd and fled. (Such marches would occur daily until September 19.) Protesters kissed the shoes of soldiers, in an attempt to persuade them to join the civilian protest, whilst some encircled military officers to protect them from the crowd and earlier violence Over the next four days these demonstrations continued; the government was surprised by the scale of the protests and stated that it promised to head the demands of the protesters "insofar as possible". Lwin had brought in more soldiers from insurgent areas to deal with the protesters.

In Mandalay Division, a more organised strike committee was headed by lawyers and discussion focussed on multi-party democracy and human rights. Many participants in the protests arrived from nearby towns and villages. Farmers who were particularly angry with the government's economic policies joined the protests in Rangoon. In one village, 2,000 of the 5,000 people also went on strike.

A short while later, the authorities opened fire on the protestors. Ne Win ordered that, "Guns were not to shoot upwards," meaning that he was ordering the military to shoot directly at the demonstrators. Protestors responded by throwing Molotov cocktails, swords, knives, rocks, poisoned darts and bicycle spokes. In one incident, protestors burned a police station and tore apart four fleeing officers. On August 10, soldiers fired into Rangoon General Hospital, killing nurses and doctors tending to the wounded. State-run Radio Rangoon reported that 1,451 "looters and disturbance makers" had been arrested.

After four days of violence with as many as 3,000 dead, and unable to contain the protests, Sein Lwin resigned after 18 days in office.

Nationwide demonstrations resumed on August 22, 1988. In Mandalay, 100,000 people protested, including Buddhist monks and 50,000 demonstrated in Sittwe. Large marches took places from Taunggyi and Moulmein to distant ethnic states (particularly where military campaigns had previously taken place), where red, the symbolic colour for democracy was displayed on banners. Two days later, doctors, monks, musicians, actors, lawyers, army veterans and government office workers joined the protests. It became difficult for committees to control the protests. During this time, demonstrators became increasingly wary of "suspicious looking" people and police and army officers. On one occasion, a local committee mistakenly beheaded a couple thought to have been carying a bomb. Incidents like these were not as common in Mandalay, where protests were more peaceful as they were organised by monks and lawyers.

On August 26, Aung San Suu Kyi, who had watched the demonstrations from her mothers bedside, entered the political arena by addressing half a million people Shwedagon Pagoda. It was at this point that she became a symbol for the struggle in Burma, particularly in the eyes of the Western world. Kyi, as the daughter of Aung San who led the independence movement, she appeared ready to lead the movement for democracy. Kyi urged the crowd not to turn on the army but find peace through non-violent means. At this point in time for many in Burma, the uprising was seen as similar to that of the People Power Revolution in the Philippines in 1986.

Around this time, former Prime Minister U Nu and retired Brigadier General Aung Gyi also re-emerged onto the political scene in what was described as a "democracy summer" when many former democracy leaders returned. Despite the gains made by the democracy movement, Ne Win remained in the background.

During the September congress of 1988, 75% of party delegates (968 out of 1080) voted for a multi-party system of government. The BSPP announced they would be organising an election, but the opposition parties called for their immediate resignation from government, allowing an interim government to organise elections. After the BSPP rejected both demands, protesters again took to the streets on September 12, 1988. Nu promised elections within a month, proclaiming a provisional government. Meanwhile, the police and army begin fratenizing with the protesters. The movement had reached an impasse relying on three hopes: daily demonstrations in order to force the regime to respond to their demands, encouraging soldiers to defect and appealing to an international audience in the hope that United Nations or United States troops would arrive. Some Tatmadaw did defect, but only in limited numbers, mostly from the Navy. Stephen Solarz who had experienced the recent democracy protests in the Philippines and South Korea arrived in Burma in September encouraging the regime to reform, which echoed the policy of the United States government towards Burma.

By mid-September, the protests grew more violent and lawless, with soldiers deliberately leading protesters into skirmishes that the army easily won. Protesters demanded more immediate change, and distrusted steps for incremental reform.

On September 18, 1988, the military retook power in the country. General Saw Maung repealed the 1974 constitution and established the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), "imposing more Draconian measures than Ne Win had imposed." After Maung had imposed martial law, the protests were violently broken up. The government announced on the state-run radio that the military had assumed power in the peoples interest, "in order to bring a timely halt to the deteriorating conditions on all sides all over the country." Tatmadaw troops went through cities throughout Burma, indiscriminately firing on protestors. Within the first week of securing power, 1,000 students, monks and schoolchildren were killed, and another 500 were killed whilst protesting outside the United States embassy - footage caught by a cameraman nearby who distributed the footage to the world's media. Maung described the dead as "looters". Protestors were pursued into the jungle and some students took up training on the country's borders with Thailand. By the end of September, there were around 3,000 estimated deaths and unknown number of injured, with 1,000 deaths in Rangoon alone. At this point in time, Aung San Suu Kyi appealed for help. On September 21, the government had effectively regained control of the country, with the movement effectively collapsing in October.

By the end of 1988, it was estimated that 10,000 people - including protesters and soldiers, had been killed. Many others were missing.

Many in Burma believed that the regime would have collapsed had the United Nations and neighbouring countries refused recognition to the coup. Western governments and Japan cut aid to the country. Among Burma's neighbours, India was most critical; condemning the suppression, closing borders and setting up refugee camps along its border with Burma. By 1989, 6,000 NLD supporters were detained in custody and those who fleed to the ethnic border areas, such as Kawthoolei, formed groups with those who wished for greater self-determination. It was estimated 10,000 had fled to mountains controlled by ethnic insurgents such as the Karen National Liberation Army, and many later trained to become soldiers.

After the uprising, the SLORC embarked on "clumsy propaganda" towards those who organised the protests. Intelligence Chief Khin Nyunt, gave English-language press conferences aimed at providing an account favourable to the SLORC towards foreign diplomats and media. The Burmese media underwent further restriction during this period, after reporting relatively freely at the peak of the protests. In the conferences, he detailed a conspiracy of the Right acting with "subversive foreigners" of plotting to overthrow the regime and a conspiracy of the Left acting to overthrow the State. Despite the conferences, few believed the government's theory. While these conferences were ongoing, the SLORC was secretly negotiating with mutineers.

Between 1988 and 2000, the Burmese government established 20 museums detailing the military's central role throughout Burma's history and increased its numbers from 180,000 to 400,000. Schools and universities remained closed to prevent any further uprisings. Aung Sann Suu Kyi, U Tin Oo and Aung Gyi initially publicly rejected the SLORC's offer to hold elections the following year, claiming that they could not be held freely under military rule.

Today, the uprising is remembered and honoured by many Burmese expatriates and citizens alike. There is also support for the movement amongst students in Thailand, which is commemorated every August 8 since. On the 20th anniversary of the uprising, 48 activists in Burma were arrested for commemorating the event. The event garnened much support for the Burmese people internationally. Poems were written by students who participated in the protests. The 1995 film Beyond Rangoon, is based on a true story that took place during the uprising.

The events of 1988 would also have great significance 19 years later during the 2007 Burmese anti-government protests.

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Ne Win

Ne Win (Burmese: နေဝင်း IPA: ; 24 May or 14 May, 1911 or 10 July, 1910 – 5 December, 2002; born Shu Maung) was a Burmese statesman and military commander. He was Prime Minister of Burma from 1958 to 1960 and 1962 to 1974 and also head of state from 1962 to 1981. He also was the founder and from 1963 to 1988 the chairman of the Burma Socialist Programme Party, which from 1964 until 1988 was the sole political party.

New Win was a devotee of Marx and Stalin. He was the architect of Burmese Way to Socialism. The catastrophic program turned Burma into one of the world's most impoverished countries. Almost everything was nationalized and the government combined Soviet-style of central planning with superstitious beliefs. In an article published in a February 1974 issue of Newsweek magazine, the Burmese Way to Socialism was described as 'an amalgam of Buddhist and Marxist illogic'. It included such ideals as the nationalisation, isolationism from world economy, mandatory socialist indoctrination courses for civil servants, repression of minorities, expulsion of foreigners, and totalitarian police state. He is known for his numerological interests. He was said to have bathed in dolphins' blood to regain his youth. He was replaced by a new military government as a consequence of 8888 Uprising.

Ne Win's date of birth is not known with certainty. The English language publication Who's Who in Burma published in 1961 by People's Literature House, Rangoon, stated that Ne Win was born on 24 May, 1911. The late Dr. Maung Maung stated in the Burmese version of his book Burma and General Ne Win, also published in English, that Ne Win was born on 14 May, 1911. However, in a book written in Burmese entitled The Thirty Comrades, the author Kyaw Nyein gave Ne Win's date of birth as '10 July, 1910'.

Kyaw Nyein's date of 1910 can be considered as the more plausible date. First, Kyaw Nyein had access to historical records and he interviewed many surviving members of the Thirty Comrades when he wrote the book in the mid-to late 1990s. (Ne Win was one of the Thirty Comrades who secretly went to undergo military training in Japanese-occupied Hainan Island in the early 1940s for the purpose of fighting for independence from the British. In his book published around 1998 Kyaw Nyein lists the names of the surviving members of the Thirty Comrades whom he had interviewed although Ne Win was not one of them.) Secondly, when Ne Win died on 5 December, 2002, the Burmese language newspapers which were allowed to carry a paid obituary stated the age of 'U Ne Win' to be '93 years'. According to Burmese custom a person's age is their age next birthday. Since Ne Win turned 92 in July 2002, when he died in December 2002 he was considered to be 93 years old. Most Western news agencies, based on the May, 1911 birth date, reported that Ne Win was 91 years old but the obituary put up by his family (most probably his children) stated that he was 93 years old, which would be 92 according to the Western way of calculating age.

Ne Win, given name Shu Maung, was born into an educated Chinese middle class family in Paungdale about 200 miles north of Rangoon. Although Ne Win officially declared his ancestry to be Bamar, there is speculation that he had Chinese roots, with ancestry from Meixian. He spent two years at Rangoon University beginning in 1929, and took biology as his main subject with hopes of becoming a doctor. However, he left university and Rangoon in 1931 to become Thakin Shu Maung, a member of the nationalist organisation Dobama Asiayone (We Burmans Association). Other members of the group included Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) and U Nu. In 1941 Ne Win, as a member of the Ba Sein-Tun Ok (Socialist) faction of the Dobama, was one of thirty young men chosen for military training by the Japanese . Their leader was Aung San and they formed the Burma Independence Army (BIA). During military training at the then Japanese-occupied Hainan Island Shu Maung chose a nom de guerre, Bo Ne Win (Commander Radiant Sun). In early 1942 the Japanese Army and the BIA entered Burma in the wake of the retreating British forces. Ne Win's role in the campaign was to organize resistance behind the British lines.

The experience of the Japanese Occupation in Burma worked to alienate the nationalists as well as the population at large. Toward the end of the Second World War, on 27 March, 1945 the Burma National Army (successor to the BIA) turned against the Japanese following the British re-invasion of Burma. Ne Win, as one of the BNA Commanders, was quick to establish links with the British - attending the Kandy conference in Ceylon and taking charge of the anti-Communist operations in the Pyinmana area as commander of the 4th Burma Rifles after the Red Flag Communists and the Communist Party of Burma went underground to fight against the government in October 1946 and on 28 March, 1948 respectively. Burma obtained independence on 4 January, 1948, and for the first 14 years it had a parliamentary and democratic government mainly under Prime Minister U Nu, but the country was riven with political division. Even before independence, Aung San was assassinated together with six of his cabinet members on 19 July, 1947; U Saw, a pre-war prime minister and political rival of Aung San, was found guilty of the crime and executed. U Nu as leader of the Socialists took charge of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL) formed by the Communists, Socialists and the BNA in 1945 now that Aung San was dead and the Communists expelled from the AFPFL.

Following independence there were uprisings in the army and amongst ethnic minority groups. In late 1948, after a confrontation between army rivals, Ne Win was appointed second in command of the army and his rival Bo Zeya, a communist commander and fellow member of the Thirty Comrades, took a portion of the army into rebellion. Ne Win immediately adopted a policy of creating Socialist militia battalions called 'Sitwundan' under his personal command with the approval of U Nu. On 31 January, 1949, Ne Win was appointed Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) and given total control of the army replacing General Smith Dun, an ethnic Karen. He rebuilt and restructured the armed forces along the ruling Socialist Party's political lines, but the country was still split and the government was ineffective.

Ne Win was asked to serve as interim prime minister from 28 October, 1958 by U Nu, when the AFPFL split into two factions and U Nu barely survived a motion of no-confidence against his government in parliament. Ne Win restored order during the period known as the Ne Win caretaker government'. Elections were held in February 1960 and Ne Win handed back power to the victorious U Nu on 4 April, 1960.

Less than two years later, on 2 March, 1962, Ne Win again seized power in a military coup d'etat. Ne Win became head of state as Chairman of the Revolutionary Council and also Prime Minister.

The coup was characterized as "bloodless" by the world's media, although the former President of Burma Sao Shwe Thaik's young son was shot dead by a soldier, and protests and demonstrations were ruthlessly suppressed. When Rangoon University students staged a peaceful demonstration against "unjust university rules" on 7 July, 1962, Ne Win sent his troops to disperse the students. This resulted in about 100 unarmed students being shot and the historic Rangoon University Student Union building - a place of historic significance due to being the centre of anti-colonial struggles - being blown up the next morning. Ne Win's military used comparative restraint against protesters (Boudreau, 2004, p.37). Soldiers arrested activists, fired tear gas at activists, and closed campuses for three months (Boudreau,2004,p.37).

Shortly afterwards, around 8 p.m. local time, Ne Win addressed the nation in a five minute long radio which concluded in the statement: "if these disturbances were made to challenge us, I have to declare that we will fight sword with sword and spear with spear".

In 1988, 26 years later, Ne Win denied any involvement in dynamiting of the Student Union building, stating that his deputy Brigadier Aung Gyi - who by that time had fallen out with Ne Win and dismissed - had given the order and that he had to take responsibility as a "revolutionary leader" by giving the sword with sword and spear with spear speech.

On 13 July 1962, less than a week after the speech, Ne Win left for Austria, Switzerland and the United Kingdom "for a medical check up". All universities were closed for more than two years until September 1964.

Ne Win instituted a system including elements of extreme nationalism, Marxism, and Buddhism - though he himself lacked interest in either ideology or religion - terming this the Burmese Way to Socialism.

Ne Win founded the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), the chairman of which he remained for 26 years from 4 July, 1962 until 23 July, 1988. On 23 March, 1964, a decree banned all other political parties, establishing a one party state.

His government imprisoned political activists and fought ethnic and communist insurgencies with massive military force. Ethnic problems arose mainly in the south-eastern part of the country, where the British had promised the Karen people a separate state or considerable autonomy.

On 2 March, 1974 - twelve years after his coup - he disbanded the Revolutionary Council and proclaimed the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma. He had himself elected as President and shortly afterwards appointed Brigadier General Sein Win Prime Minister.

On 9 November 1978, Ne Win resigned as President and was succeeded in that post by General San Yu. However, Ne Win remained leader of the party and thus remained the ultimate political authority until his resignation in 1988.

His government nationalized the economy and pursued a policy of autarky, which involved the economic isolation of his country from the world. The ubiquitous black market and rampant smuggling supplied the needs of the people, while the central government slid slowly into bankruptcy. Autarky also involved expelling foreigners and restricting visits by foreigners to three days, and after 1972, one week. Furthermore, political oppression caused many in the educated workforce to emigrate.

He also took drastic steps regarding the currency: In 1963, he issued a decree that 50 and 100 kyat notes would cease to be legal tender, alleging that they were subject to hoarding by blackmarketeers and also financing of the various insurgencies. Though limited compensation was offered, this wiped out people's savings overnight. At least one insurgency, that of the ethnic Kayan, was triggered by this act.

In September 1987 he ordered the Burmese currency, the kyat, to be issued in denominations of 15, 35, 45, 75 and 90 kyats, besides the existing 5 and 10 kyat notes. He reportedly changed the currency to add up to nine because an astrologer said he would live to 90 if he did this. Ne Win was well known for his penchant numerology and yadaya - cabalistic rituals and spells performed in order to ward off misfortune.

In 1987 After the United Nations had declared Burma a "Least Developed Country" in 1987, Ne Win resigned on 23 July, 1988 as chairman of the ruling Burma Socialist Programme Party at the height of the uprising against one-party rule.

Despite the oppression, sporadic protests against the government continued. Students led protests in 1965, December 1969, December 1970. These demonstrations took place mainly on campuses located in the cities of Rangoon, Mandalay and Moulmein and were often followed by closure of universities and colleges. In June 1974, workers from more than 100 factories throughout the nation participated in a strike, to which the government reacted by shooting about 100 workers and students on 6 June, 1974 at the Thamaing Textile Factory and the Sinmalaik Dock Yard in Rangoon. Since Ne Win was in Australia on an official visit at the time, responsibility for these shootings is unclear. On 5 December, 1974, students turned the funeral of former UN Secretary General U Thant into a demonstration, snatching the coffin on display at the Kyaikkasan Race Course and erecting a makeshift mausoleum on the grounds of the former Student Union building in protest against the government for not honouring their famous countryman with a state funeral. The military stormed the campus on 11 December killing some of the students, recovered the coffin and buried U Thant at the foot of the Shwedagon pagoda, next to the tomb of Thakin Kodaw Hmaing.

Students from universities throughout Rangoon demonstrated again in June 1975 in commemoration of the previous year's Labour Strike. Student-led demonstrations also occurred in March 1976, September 1987, March and June 1988. In August and September 1988, these demonstrations turned into a nation-wide uprising against BSPP rule in what is now known as the 'Four Eights Uprising'.

At the height of the Four Eights Uprising against the BSSP regime, Ne Win resigned as party chairman on 23 July 1988. During his farewell speech to the BSPP Party Congress, he again resorted to issue warning against potential protestors, stating that if the "disturbances" continued the "Army would have to be called and I would like to declare from here that if the Army shoots it has no tradition of shooting into the air. It would shoot straight to hit." The Tatmadaw troops, which shot, killed and maimed hundreds if not up to 3000 or more demonstrators in various places throughout Burma from the period of 8 August, 1988 to 12 August, 1988 and again on 18 September, 1988 proved that Ne Win's farewell speech was not an empty threat.

On 18 September, 1988 the military led by General Saw Maung dispelled any hopes for democracy by brutally crushing the uprisings. It is widely believed that Ne Win, though in apparent retirement, orchestrated the coup from behind the scenes.

For about ten years, Ne Win kept a low profile but remained a shadowy figure exercising at least some influence on the military junta. After 1998, Ne Win's influence on the junta began to wane. On 4 March, 2002, an alleged plot to overthrow the junta by Ne Win's son-in-law Aye Zaw Win, the husband of his favorite daughter Sandar Win was exposed. Ne Win and his daughter were put under house arrest and in September Aye Zaw Win and his three sons - Aye Ne Win, Kyaw Ne Win and Zwe Ne Win - were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. They are thought to remain in custody in Rangoon's Insein Jail.

Still under house arrest, the 92-year-old Ne Win died on 5 December, 2002 at his lakeside house in Yangon. The death remained unannounced by Burmese media or the junta. The only mention of Ne Win's death was a paid obituary notice that appeared in some of the government-controlled Burmese language newspapers. Ne Win was not given a state funeral and his former contacts or junior colleagues were strongly discouraged from attending a hastily-arranged funeral, so that only thirty people attended the funeral. Many people in Myanmar still think that he's still alive.

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Burma Campaign UK

2007 Protesters march in London organised by the Burma Campaign UK

It has two directors, Anna Roberts and Mark Farmaner. Patron’s of BCUK include Glenys Kinnock MEP, Stephen Crabb MP, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Maureen Lipman, Sue Lloyd-Roberts, Roger Lyons, Clive James, Sinead Cusack, Miriam Karlin OBE and Lord Steel. The organisation is funded by public donations.

Following the 2007 Burmese anti-government protests Burma Campaign UK worked closely with international Burma Groups to help coordinate the Global Day of Action for Burma on October 6, 2007 through the "Support The Monks' Protest In Burma" group on Facebook.com, when thousands of people demonstrated in over 25 countries across 5 continents.

Burma Campaign UK pursues a number of campaigns aimed at weakening the military junta that rules Burma and increasing awareness amongst the public of the plight of the Burmese people.

This is linked with another aim of BCUK to Free Political Prisoners. BCUK have set up a petition to be sent to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to make the release of political prisoners in Burma, including Aung San Suu Kyi his personal priority. Many recognise Aung San Suu Kyi as the legitimate leader of Burma.

The government's repression of individuals and communities residing in eastern Burma has been deemed as ethnic cleansing by BCUK. BCUK also highlights the issues of forced labour in the region and displacement, as 66,000 people have been forced to leave their homes during the past 12 months. Rape is used as a weapon against the women and disease is most densely concentrated on Burma's borders, sadly the regime blocks aid from these communities. Information from numerous sources including the Karen Women’s Organisation and Karen Human Rights Group can be found on the BCUK website. BCUK is also pushing for a UN arms embargo against the regime to halt this kind of extreme repression.

Following a report published in 2005 by Vaclav Havel and Desmond Tutu that showed that Burma fits the criteria for United Nations Security Council (UNSC) intervention BCUK calls on UNSC members to pass a resolution requiring the regime to work with the United Nations in restoring democracy to Burma, and to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all prisoners of conscience.

Burma is one of the most impoverished nations on the planet. The militant regime spends half of it's budget on the military and less than $1 per person, per year on education and health care. The lack of democratic accountability results in needless hunger, lack of education and basic health care. BCUK is urging the Department For International Development (DFID) to take a more active role in alleviating the immediate suffering and to support the democratic movement. Thus far the DFID stands accused of failing.

BCUK has campaigned for targeted sanctions against the regime for many years. These sanctions are designed to deprive the regime and generals of foreign currency. In 2007 they claimed victory as the European Union imposed new sanctions against the regime. BCUK is now calling for financial sanctions to be imposed against Burma by both the UK and EU. BCUK revealed that in 2008 the number of companies with links to Burma had actually increased.

Insurance companies from all over the world, including ones from countries with economic sanctions against the regime, help to insure foreign companies in Burma that provide vital income to the regime. Money made from these foreign companies will not go to the starving people, it will be used to fund the military machine that oppresses the people. BCUK advocates, among other aims, that the EU issue a ban on the provision of insurance services from member states to companies inside Burma. Due to pressure from BCUK certain companies have been forced to respond.

The French oil company TOTAL Oil began constructing the Yadana gas project in 1992 in partnership with Unocal and the state owned Myanmar Oil & gas military. This joint venture earns the military regime hundreds of millions of dollars every year. BCUK launched an international campaign against the oil company supported by 41 organisations in 18 countries. In September 2007 the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner stated that he favoured Total pulling out of the country.

Following Aung San Suu Kyi’s request for people not to visit Burma until the country is free BCUK campaign’s against tourism companies that take tourists to Burma. The NGO also runs a Boycott Lonely Planet campaign since Lonely Planet produces a guide that promotes “tourism to Burma and vigorously defends tourism to Burma in the media”. Hlaing Sein of BCUK has stated that it is impossible to visit Burma without aiding the regime.

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Source : Wikipedia