The United States has condemned the arrest of political dissidents by Burma's military-run government following a rare string of anti-government protests there. President Bush in a statement Thursday said that he strongly condemns what he called the "ongoing actions of Burma's government in arresting, harassing and assaulting pro-democracy activists." He called on Burma to release the activists immediately.
The U.S. State Department also criticized the Burmese government for its tough response to the recent non-violent demonstrations against a steep increase in fuel prices. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Burma is using the protests as a basis to confront the country's dissident movement.
He said Washington will continue working with the United Nations to secure the release of the political prisoners, including democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Earlier Thursday, the detained activists were reported to have begun a hunger strike, as authorities increased efforts to find other activists involved in the protests.
Sources close to the detainees say the hunger strike began Thursday. The claim could not be independently confirmed. The sources say the strikers are demanding that authorities provide medical treatment to an injured colleague.
Burmese security forces say they have detained about 50 people, but activists say more than 100 have been arrested in those recent protests.
Demonstrations are extremely rare in Burma, where more than 12,00 activists are thought to be imprisoned.
On Wednesday, three senior U.S. lawmakers urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to call on the United Nations Security Council to hold an emergency meeting on Burma.
In a letter, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and leading Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California wrote that Burma's human rights situation merits a "strong and meaningful response" from the United States.
They and the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Lantos of California, criticized Burma's military government.