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Burma’s hard-line prime minister dies in hospital

Burma Prime Minister Soe Win, considered one of the hardliners of the isolated military regime, died on Friday after a long illness, state media said.

“The Prime Minister, General Soe Win, died this evening” at a military hospital in the country’s main city, Rangoon, state radio said.

Soe Win, believed to be 59, had been treated in Singapore since March, reportedly for leukaemia. He is believed to have returned to Rangoon in the last few weeks.

In May he handed his duties to Lieutenant General Thein Sein, who ranks fifth in the military junta and has been referred to as acting prime minister in state media.

Soe Win’s death was not expected to have a major impact on the government as all real power lies with Senior General Than Shwe and the military junta, which last week launched a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

Soe Win rose in the ranks after allegedly masterminding an attack on the motorcade of opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in May 2003, an event known to her supporters as “Black Friday”.

After the attack in rural northern Burma, she was imprisoned and then placed under house arrest — while Soe Win rose in the junta hierarchy to replace the disgraced Khin Nyunt as prime minister in October 2004. — AFP

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