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Hundreds of thousands of Burmese demonstrated for immediate democracy Friday, and dissident leaders called for more protests, rejecting President Maung Maung's pledge of a referendum on one-party rule.

A Western diplomat said he had reports that students, Buddhist monks and others had taken over about 40 town governments because of continued strikes, demonstrations and defections of officials.In Moulmein, the Mon state capital 50 miles east of Rangoon, a resident said the government had been paralyzed since early August by strikes of city employees.

The report said an 11-member committee formed by the state's Buddhist monk organization was running the city and citizen patrols handled security.

More than 10,000 striking government employees in Moulmein rallied Friday against Maung Maung's referendum plan, denouncing it as an attempt to prolong the 26-year rule of the Burma Socialist Program Party.

About 300,000 people, including striking government workers and policemen, held a rally for democracy in Monywa and rejected the president's plea for a return to work, a resident said. The city is 400 miles northwest of Rangoon.

Maung Maung expressed sympathy with the protesters in a speech Thursday but said he must respect constitutional procedures and cannot bow to demands for an interim government.

He said the party leadership would meet Sept. 12 to consider holding a referendum on one-party rule that could lead to a multiparty system.

Protesters from all segments of society blame the party, which a military coup brought to power in 1962, for brutal repression and for rigid socialist policies that have visited economic ruin on a nation rich in natural resources.

The Western diplomat said of the reaction to Maung Maung's speech: "They think it's not enough. They cannot trust the government to carry out its promise."

He said protesters were calling for large-scale demonstrations Sept. 8, but strikes and protests already are daily events and it was not clear what more could be done.

Former Defense Minister Tin Oo, a leading dissident, said Friday: "It is no longer necessary to hold a referendum. The whole country has rejected one-party rule. Only an interim government will be able to reactivate the stalled administration and ease the situation."

Similar responses came from the new League for Democracy and Peace, made up by elder statesmen and military officers led by former President Win Maung, and the Rangoon Lawyers' Council, a government-sponsored group.

A statement by the lawyers said the shooting of demonstrators and indefinite detention of suspects last month violated the constitution.

"It is ridiculous to talk about constitutionality by the government that has violated the constitution on various occasions," the statement said. "The national sentiment against one-party rule is evident by demonstrations throughout the nation."