Myanmar is holding closely watched by-elections on Sunday in which Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is standing for a seat in parliament for the first time.
Following are some facts about the country:
Geography: The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is in Southeast Asia and borders Bangladesh and India to the west, China to the north and Laos and Thailand to the east.
Area: 676,552 square kilometres (270,620 square miles).
Population: 57.5 million (2008, official estimate), 62.4 million (2011, IMF estimate).
Ethnic groups: Burman (68%), several minorities including the Shan (9% in the east, the Karen (7%) in the southeast, the Mon in the south and the Kachin in the northeast.
Capital: The junta in 2005 moved to an administrative capital at Naypyidaw in the centre of the country, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of the former capital, Yangon.
Religion: Buddhist (89%), Christian (5%), Muslim (4%, Rohingya -- a Bengali minority), Hindu, animist (2%).
History: Following three Anglo-Burmese wars (1824-26, 1852 and 1885), Britain annexed Burma and made it a province of British India in 1886. Burma became a separate colony in 1937 but this ended with invasion by Japan in 1942.
After Japan's World War II defeat, the Union of Burma gained independence on January 4, 1948.
Government: Following a controversial 2010 election, Myanmar has a nominally civilian government but its ranks are filled with ex-generals including President Thein Sein, a former junta premier.
Economy: Despite rich natural resources (oil, gas, gold, rubies, teak, copper), almost one-third of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Myanmar is also the world's second-largest producer of illicit opium, after Afghanistan.
The IMF predicts the economy will grow by about 5.5 percent in the fiscal year to March 2012, and 6.0 percent the following year, driven by commodity exports and higher investment.
GDP per capita: Estimated at $804 (IMF, 2011)
Total external debt: 8.2 billion dollars (2009, World Bank)
Currency: Kyat. Myanmar has announced plans to overhaul its complex exchange rate system to allow a managed flotation of its currency from April 1.
Armed forces: Up to about 400,000 personnel, according to Jane's Sentinel.
Rebels: The country has been plagued by insurgency in ethnic areas since independence. The new government has signed a series of tentative peace pacts with a number of rebel groups but continues to battle ethnic Kachin in the far north, with tens of thousands of civilians displaced by the conflict.