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The leader of Myanmar’s military government did not attend an official Independence Day dinner as he underwent a medical check in Singapore, fueling concerns about the health of the 73-year-old general, diplomats said Friday.Than Shwe’s absence from the Thursday evening dinner for military leaders, officials and diplomats was briefly noted by state-run newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar, which said the ruling council’s No. 2 official, Sen. Gen. Maung Aye, attended the gala event on Than Shwe’s behalf.

It was the first time since Than Shwe took power in 1992 that he did not host the annual dinner. This year marks the 59th anniversary of the country’s independence from Britain.

His sickness could accelerate a power shift in Myanmar’s military hierarchy with many speculating that Than Shwe might be replaced by General Shwe Mann, deemed his chosen successor.

General Maung Aye, the second highest ranking general in Myanmar, is said to lack political support in his bid to lead the junta.

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962 when former strongman General Ne Win overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister U Nu and launched the country along its disastrous ‘Burmese Way to Socialism.’

Ne Win resigned all political posts in 1988 amid nationwide anti-military protests and passed power to a younger crop of military men who have lorded over the country for the past two decades

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