Ne Win, U

Ne Win, U o͞o nā wĭn [key], 1911–2002, Burmese soldier and political leader. He abandoned his original name, Shu Maung, in 1941 when he joined a Japanese-supported nationalist military group. Becoming commander of the Burmese Independence Army in 1943, he later turned against the Japanese. After Myanmar (known as Burma until 1989) won its independence from Great Britain in 1948, he became Home and Defense minister. In 1958 he deposed prime minister U Nu. U Nu returned (1960–62), but Ne Win removed him again in a 1962 coup. By 1971, he had transformed Myanmar into a one-party police state led by the Burmese Socialist Program party. He nationalized trade and industry, expelled Chinese and Indian entrepeneurs, and adopted isolationism as his country's basic foreign policy. President (1974–81) under a constitution adopted in 1974, Ne Win remained party head until 1988, when he resigned, admitting to economic mismanagement. Agitation for free elections led to a military takeover that year, and Ne Win remained the country's apparent behind-the-scenes power for several years. By the time he ceased to control the country, Ne Win had done much to turn his homeland, once one of the British Empire's most prosperous outposts, into one of the world's poorest countries.

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