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Former Burmese Dictator Dies - 2002-12-05

Burma's former dictator Ne Win has died at the age of 91. A once powerful figure who drove his country into economic ruin, he died while under house arrest ordered by the very generals he picked to succeed him.

Ne Win began his political career a national hero and died in disgrace. Born Shu Maung in 1911, he took the revolutionary name Ne Win, which means brilliant as the sun, while fighting the British for independence, which Burma achieved in 1948.

Following more than a decade in the political limelight, Ne Win seized power in a 1962 bloodless coup. What followed was 26 years of authoritarian rule and economic mismanagement in a socialist state. He destroyed the economy by nationalizing private businesses and most industries, and dealing violently and harshly with any dissent.

Private foreign investment nearly halted, and corruption, black-marketeering, and inefficiency were rampant as he shut off the country, which grew poorer while he reputedly grew wealthy. Although Ne Win instituted a strict moral code, he was known as a ladies' man, and married several times. He was known to be superstitious and believed in numerology.

Although Ne Win retired from politics in 1988, he still held considerable influence over the generals he handpicked to replaced him. Shortly after his retirement, the military killed thousands of people in a popular uprising against the years of Ne Win's rule.

The uprising brought democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi into the limelight. Her National League for Democracy won the elections held in 1990 by a landslide, but was never allowed to take power. She has spent most of the time since then under house arrest.

The military government is currently stalled in its reconciliation talks with Aung San Suu Kyi.

In March, Ne Win, whose influence had waned during the last few years, was placed under house arrest along with his daughter. Her husband and their three sons were arrested for plotting a coup against the government. The four were sentenced to death for treason in September, but are appealing the sentence. The government claims the family plotted the coup to re-capture its influence.

Mystery surrounded the reclusive Ne Win. Many in Burma thought he possessed magical powers that allowed him to stay in power for so long and live to such an old age.