(Reuters) - Myanmar’s generals are expected to hold crisis meetings this week in their new jungle capital to decide how to react to the biggest anti-government protests since they ruthlessly crushed a mass uprising in 1988.
Following are five facts about the military junta’s most powerful figure, Than Shwe:
— Born in central Myanmar in February 1933 in what was then called Burma and under British imperial control. Than Shwe worked as a postal clerk before joining the army in 1953.
He rose through the ranks to become military supremo with the official title “Senior General” in 1992 after his predecessor, General Saw Maung, retired on health grounds.
— On taking power, he said the junta that seized power in a 1962 coup would “not hold onto power for long”, sparking hopes of serious efforts to reinstall civilian government and democracy.
Since that comment, opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has spent most of her time either in prison or under house arrest.
— As head of one of the world’s most secretive regimes, Than Shwe is rarely seen in public or out of uniform. One notable exception is his appearance at a secretly leaked video of his daughter’s wedding in 2006.
In a 10-minute clip posted on the Internet, bespectacled Than Shwe walks stiffly at his daughter’s side wearing a starched white shirt and an orange longgyi, a traditional wrap.
The wedding’s extreme lavishness sparked outrage among Myanmar’s 53 million people, among the poorest in Asia.
— He is known to have an intense personal dislike of Suu Kyi and is alleged to have walked out of a meeting with a foreign ambassador simply because her name was mentioned.
— Rumors about his failing health and imminent demise are common, although they have proved unfounded so far.
In January, he paid a hush-hush two-week visit to a top Singapore hospital, missing an Independence Day banquet for the first time in 16 years. His absence sparked reports he had been receiving treatment for intestinal cancer.