Aung San

(1915—1947) politician in Burma

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Burmese political activist, who led the movement for independence from British rule.

Britain's annexation of the remaining core of independent Burmese territory in 1886 was strongly opposed by Aung San's family, who became prominent in national resistance. Aung San himself became an anti-British activist in the period between the two World Wars and, as secretary of the students' union at Rangoon University, worked with fellow activist U Nu to lead a major students' strike in February 1936. In 1939 Aung San became secretary-general of the nationalist Domama Asi-Ayone (We-Burmans Association). In 1940, while in China seeking support for Burmese independence, Aung San was approached by the Japanese, who helped him raise a ‘Burma Independence Army’ to support their invasion of his homeland. Between 1943 and 1945 Aung San served as a minister of defence in Ba Maw's puppet government. However, disenchanted by Japanese promises and performance, Aung San switched his allegiance to the Allied cause in March 1945. After the Japanese surrender, by retaining a cadre of key personnel to establish a People's Volunteer Organization, Aung San successfully resisted British efforts to neutralize him. Subsequent negotiations provided for Burmese independence by January 1948. The elections of April 1947 gave the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, which Aung San had helped to form, 196 out of 202 seats. Despite being denounced by Burmese communists as an instrument of British imperialism, Aung San was committed to national independence outside the framework of the British Commonwealth.

On 19 July 1947 prime minister-designate Aung San, his brother, and five governmental colleagues were assassinated by a bomb during a session of the Executive Council. U Saw, Aung San's long-time rival, was later executed for his role in the murder. Half a century after his death Aung San's daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, became the rallying point for democratic opposition to the military dictatorship of Burma (renamed Myanmar).

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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