03/30/2011, 00.00
MYANMAR

Than Shwe dissolves military junta as Thein Sein becomes Burmese president

The new head of state will preside over a 30-member cabinet. North Korea, China and Iran send messages of well wishes. What role Than Shwe will play remains unclear; for 20 years, he ran the country.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Senior General Than Shwe “officially dissolved” the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the military junta than ran Myanmar in a dictatorial manner for the past 20 years. Former Prime Minister and top General Thein Sein is the new president. He will head the new government formed by the majority party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (UDSP). The swearing-in ceremony was held this morning in the capital Naypyidaw during a session of parliament. Various Asian nations, including China and North Korea, sent messages of well wishes to the new government. For Aung San Suu Kyi, what is happening is a “parody of democracy”, one that is “worse than dictatorship”.

Myanmar state TV announced today that Senior General Than Shwe had "officially dissolved” the SPDC after the country swore in its new government.

An anonymous official said that General Min Aung Hlaing was present at Thein Sein’s investiture, and is set to replace Than Shwe as commander of the armed forces.

The new president, Thein Sein, 65, presented his 30-member cabinet, most of who are former military officers. Hla Min is the new Defence minister. Ko Ko is the new minister for Home Affairs. Thein Htay will run two ministries, Border Affairs and National Industrial Development.

However, under the constitution adopted in 2008 in the middle of the emergency caused by cyclone Nargis and under a cloud of vote rigging allegations, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces has the authority to appoint the ministers of Defence, Home Affairs, and Border Affairs.

Sources in Myanmar said that General Min Aung Hlaing would be the new Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) in replacement of Than Shwe.

Doubts persist over the senior general’s role in the new system. Some analysts believe that the strongman of the country formerly known as Burma will hold the real power with a small group of people through a “Supreme Council”. Like North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, he will be the de facto leader of the country, whilst President Thein Sein will be de jure head of state like North Korea’s Kim Yong Nam. Others argue that he will continue to lead the nation without any formal position.

The swearing in of the new government was met with messages of well wishes from China, North Korea, Nepal, Bangladesh, Cuba, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The ceremony also marked the end of the first session of the new parliament, which was officially inaugurated on 31 January but is expected to resume only at the end of the year.

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