The United States Wednesday condemned Burma's arrest of at least 13 activists who staged rare public demonstrations this week against government-mandated fuel price increases. The State Department accuses the military government in Rangoon of a "blatant" attempt to silence peaceful protests. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Public protests are rare in Burma, where the military government brutally repressed pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 and killed an estimated 3,000 people.

This week's demonstrations over the recent fuel price hikes were small by comparison with only a few hundred people involved, including some veteran leaders of the so-called 88 Generation students group who had taken part in the 1988 protests.

The arrests of the activists, among them several leaders of the 88 Generation group, drew condemnation from State Department Acting Spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos.

"The United States calls for the immediate release of these activists, and for an end to the regime's blatant attempt to intimidate and silence those who are engaged in peaceful promotion of democracy and human rights in Burma," said Gallegos. "We call on the regime to engage in meaningful dialogue with members of Burma's democracy movement and ethnic minority groups, and to make tangible steps toward a transition to civilian, democratic rule."

The spokesman specifically mentioned the arrest of Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi - two of Burma's most prominent dissidents after detained opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

In the statement, Gallegos renewed the U.S. call on Burma to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Su Kyi, who has been under detention most of the time since her National League for Democracy party won elections in 1990 but was barred from taking power.

He also urged Rangoon authorities to end military attacks and human rights abuses against civilians in ethnic-minority areas, and to lift restrictions on humanitarian organizations in Burma.

Gallegos said improving relations between the United States and Burma depends on the government taking "concrete and credible" steps in that direction.

The United States maintains only limited diplomatic ties with Burma, and senior U.S. officials refuse to visit the country because they have been denied access to Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition figures.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Eric John met Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win and other officials of the Rangoon government in late June in Beijing.

The unusual meeting, arranged by China, was the highest-level U.S.-Burmese discussion since 2003. The State Department called it a frank exchange of views that yielded no indication of change by the Burmese on human rights.