Myanmar politician, prime minister of Burma (now Myanmar) for most of the period from 1947 to the military coup of 1962. He was the country's first democratically elected prime minister. Exiled from 1966, U Nu returned to the country in 1980 and, in 1988, helped found the National League for Democracy opposition movement.
Early life U Nu was born in Wakema in the Irrawaddy delta, and studied at the new University of Rangoon, leading a nationwide student strike against the British colonial government in 1936. He joined the Dobhama Asiayone (‘Our Burma’) nationalist organization during the 1930s and was imprisoned by the British authorities at the start of World War II.
In government He was released in 1942, following Japan's invasion of Burma, and appointed foreign minister in the Ba Maw government. In 1946 Nu was elected vice president of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL), the major nationalist front, which had fought, since 1945, against Japanese occupation, and in June 1947 he became speaker of the constituent assembly, which had the task of drafting a new constitution. After the assassination of his longtime friend Aung San, a founder of AFPFL, he became Burma's first prime minister in August 1947.
Prime minister U Nu oversaw the transition to independence in 1948, and sought to promote democracy and preserve unity in a nation faced by insurgencies by the Burmese Communist Party and the separatist Karen community. A devout Buddhist who took vows of celibacy and teetotalism in 1948, he sought to govern as a rajarsi (ruler-sage) and promoted Theravāda Buddhism, sponsoring the construction of the Kaba-Aye peace pagoda. Despite leading the fractious AFPFL to successive electoral victories in 1952, 1956, and 1960, U Nu stepped down as prime minister temporarily in 1956–57 and 1958–60.
Coup He was overthrown in March 1962 by a military coup led by General Ne Win. He was placed under house arrest for five years, before living in exile in Thailand and India, where he resided near a Buddhist monastery.
Pro-democracy movement On his return to Myanmar in 1980, he abandoned politics and concentrated on translating classic Buddhist texts from Burmese to English. However, moved by the pro-democracy uprising of 1988, he formed the National League for Democracy and declared himself prime minister. He was placed under house arrest in November 1988 by the new military junta that had recently seized power, and in 1991 his party was outlawed. U Nu remained under detention until April 1992.
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