The military initially argued it had to seize control for security reasons. The second world war and the rapid unravelling of British and, briefly, Japanese rule had left Myanmar a pretty confused place. In 1947, revolutionary Aung San had negotiated independence from the British. In 1948 the country, then known as Burma, became an independent republic with its own parliament, but a communist insurgency and constant agitation by a long list of disgruntled ethnic groups meant it was a difficult nation to govern. Conscious of the fragility of his position, former freedom fighter and first prime minister U Nu pursued a path of reconciliation even while the military worked to quell various rebellions. He offered an amnesty to rebels who handed in their weapons and was soon cozying up to a leftist coalition in parliament that some suspected of having communist ties. Just over a decade later, a few elections had been held, U Nu had relinquished and reassumed his position a couple of times, and things were starting to settle down. But hardliners in the army were convinced the prime minister's light-handed approach was paving the way for communists to take over the government by stealth and encouraging the Shan, one of the larger restive minorities, to bid for full independence from the Burman union. The latter prospect proved too much for army commander Ne Win, who, in March 1962, launched a coup, installed himself as leader and placed U Nu in 'protective custody'. The general quickly demonstrated he was made of very different stuff from his predecessor, ruthlessly suppressing student demonstrations. The new leadership pursued an austere ideology dubbed the 'Burmese way to socialism', a nationalist-Marxist blend that aimed to sever ties with the outside world. The military administration pledged in its first manifesto to work towards a 'form of democracy that will promote and safeguard socialist development', but in the years to come showed little appetite for elections or a more egalitarian system of governance. Ne Win's rule lasted well into the 1980s, surviving further student protests, sporadic strikes and general discontent over the government managing to quickly transform Myanmar from one of the wealthiest nations in the region to one of the world's poorest. In 1988, Ne Win resigned and the most serious uprising the country had ever seen ensued, but it, too, was put down and the military clung to power. A further challenge came in 1990, when Myanmar's first elections in years resulted in a clear victory for the opposition National League for Democracy. The junta responded by arresting its most prominent leaders, including Nobel Prize-winner-in-waiting Aung San Suu Kyi (Aung San's youngest daughter), who had been placed under house arrest the previous year. It continued to run the country, but this time as the newly christened State Law and Order Restoration Council. It's now known as the slightly warmer and fuzzier-sounding State Peace and Development Council, but most of the key players remain in place. The administration has been headed since 1992 by Than Shwe, who, despite a few relatively liberal gestures early in his career, soon proved as unyielding as his predecessors. Recently, tensions flared again in Yangon, when the Buddhist country's monks lent their weight to protests against the junta's economic mismanagement and political oppression. But the military has weathered such storms before and appears unlikely to get out of the driver's seat for the time being.