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Multiparty legislative elections were held in 1990, with the main opposition party - the National League for Democracy (NLD) - winning a landslide victory (392 of 489 seats).
But SLORC refused to hand over power, instead placing NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, which she has endured for 14 of the last 20 years.
Burma was a major battleground as the Allies fought the Japanese for dominance over Asia. The Thailand-Burma railroad (the so-called "Death Railway") from Kanchanaburi in Thailand over the River Kwai to Burma was built by the Japanese using forced labor — a great number of people (estimated at 80,000) died during construction of the railway.
Large parts of Western Burma, particularly the hilly areas bordering India and the city of Mandalay were severely damaged during the war.
It was administered as a province of India until 1937 when it became a separate self-governing colony.
Most of the jobs in the British led administration were occupied by people brought from India and the local Bamar people were sidelined.
Independence from the British under the name Union of Burma was finally attained in 1948, and till this day, Aung San is regarded by most Burmese people to be the father of independence.
The new union brought together various states defined by ethnic identity, many of whom had centuries-long histories of autonomy from and struggles against each other.
The riots caused overseas development assistance to cease and the government subsequently nullified the results of the 1990 legislative elections.General Ne Win dominated the government from 1962 to 1988, first as military ruler, then as self-appointed president, and later as political kingpin.Pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 were violently crushed, with general Saw Maung taking over in a coup and installing the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) to rule the country, now renamed Myanmar.For the next millennium, the Burmese empire grew through conquests of Thailand (Ayutthaya) and India (Manipur), and shrank under attacks from China and internal rebellions.Eventually, Britain conquered Burma over a period of 62 years (1824-1886) and incorporated it into British colonial Empire.
The demonstrations started in August, apparently in an uncoordinated manner, as a protest against a stiff hike in the price of petrol, but morphed into a more serious challenge to the government after three monks were beaten at a protest march in the town of Pakokku.