Ne Win, who was blamed for leading Burma into isolation and economic ruin during 26 years of authoritarian rule, quit Saturday as chairman of the nation's only political party and announced a referendum on one-party rule.
Speaking to a special session of the ruling Burma Socialist Program Party, the 77-year-old leader cited bloody anti-government rioting in March and June as a main reason for his resignation.Five veteran party leaders, including the nation's president and vice president - less important positions than the party chairmanship - also resigned.
"Since I am indirectly responsible for the March and June affairs and because of my adanced age, I am resigning from both party chairmanship and also as a member," Ne Win told 1,000 delegates in remarks broadcast on state radio and television.
"Bloodshed in March and June showed the lack of trust and confidence in the government," Ne Win said. "To find out whether the majority or the minority are behind (the demonstrators), a referendum must be held so the people can choose between the existing one-party system or a multiparty system."
He said the referendum would be held no later than the end of September, until which the current government would continue its functions.
If a multiparty system is chosen, Ne Win said, general elections must be held. Even if voters chose to retain a one-party state, there should be "necessary modifications," he said.
"Whatever the results of the referendum, and whatever the new government, I will completely retire from politics," Ne Win said.
The party congress was expected to choose a new chairman Monday. Maung Maung Kha, prime minister since 1977, was seen as a likely candidate.
Since coming to power in a 1962 military coup, Ne Win led Burma into isolation from the world community. The nation's economy deteriorated, and political and personal freedoms were curtailed.
Student-led demonstrations have rocked Rangoon and other Burmese cities thre times since last October, resulting in deaths, mass arrests and the closure of universities.
Ne Win resigned from the presidency in 1981 but retained the far more important party post. He was the most powerful figure in Burma.
Regarded as potentially the richest nation in resources in Southeast Asia, Burma has a per capita income of less than $200 and ranks among the world's 10 poorest countries.
Once the world's largest rice exporter and an oil producer, Burma has suffered food shortages and has had to import petroleum products.
Probably as a result of Burma's colonial past, Ne Win also sought to exclude foreign influence, including direct involvement by private foreign companies. In recent years, tourists have been allowed to enter the country, but only on seven-day visas.
The five leaders who resigned wth Ne Win were San Yu, party vice chairman and president of the country; Aye Ko, party secretary-general and vice president; Sein Lwin, party joint general secretary and secretary of the Council of State; Kyaw Htin, party central executive committee mamber, deputy prime minister and defense minister, and Tun Tin, central executive committee members, deputy prime minister and finance minister.
They are to retain their government positions until a new government is formed.