Burma has held a series of low-key events to mark the 60th anniversary of independence from British rule.
Gen Than Shwe did not attend the commemoration events
Military ruler Gen Than Shwe used the occasion to reiterate the government's determination to continue with its seven-stage roadmap to democracy.
But critics say the plan is just a way to perpetuate the military's control. They used the anniversary to call for the release of political prisoners.
The British ruled Burma for 63 years, until shortly after World War II.
The BBC's Jonathan Head, reporting from neighbouring Thailand, said there was little sign of any celebration in Burma, 60 years on from independence.
The national flag was raised in Rangoon and in the new capital, Naypyidaw, at the exact moment that the British flag was lowered in 1948.
Than Shwe did not attend either event, but a statement was read out in which he called for national unity and discipline.
He said the people of Burma were working towards "the emergence of a peaceful, modern and developed discipline-flourishing democratic state".
He stressed his commitment to the democracy roadmap - a process which critics say is entirely controlled by the military and excludes the high-profile opposition figure Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).
The statement suggests the military leadership does not appear to have softened its stance since September's violent crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners, which resulted in the deaths of at least 31 people.
No mention was made of the protests, nor to Aung San, Ms Suu Kyi's father and the leader of Burma's independence struggle.
Sean Turnell, an expert on Burma at Australia's Macquarie University, said this was because "if he glorified the role of Aung San, in a sense, he was also glorifying Aung San Suu Kyi".
"It's like America celebrating the Fourth of July without mentioning Washington," he told the French news agency AFP, referring to the first US president.
Following September's protests, the military junta appointed an official, Aung Kyi, to liaise with Ms Suu Kyi and her NLD party, prompting hope that there could be a genuine dialogue between the two sides.
But NLD spokesman Nyman Win said the talks were a "pretence" and had made little progress since Aung Kyi and Ms Suu Kyi met in November, their only meeting so far.
"We don't know when they are going to meet again," he told AFP.