Prominent Myanmar dissidents said Friday they fled into hiding because of the military government’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests, while U.S. President George W. Bush urged the junta to listen to activists, not arrest them.

The government has detained scores of activists and employed menacing gangs of civilian militiamen to patrol city streets to snuff out an unusually persistent wave of protests that began Aug. 19 over higher fuel and consumer goods prices.

In Washington, Bush condemned Myanmar’s military-run government over the arrests, saying that the activists’ “concerns should be listened to by the regime rather than silenced through force.”

He said the generals “should heed the international calls to release these activists immediately and stop its intimidation of those Burmese citizens who are promoting democracy and human rights.” Myanmar is also known as Burma.

Prominent labor activist Su Su Nway said she has gone into hiding for fear of being detained. She was earlier sentenced to 18 months in prison but released after eight months, and has taken part in repeated protests.

“I know the conditions of the detention center because I have stayed there myself,” she said in a telephone interview. “I want to implore to authorities to treat those people humanely.”

Another protest leader, Nilar Thein, also went into hiding after her husband, Kyaw Min Yu, was arrested Tuesday. She left their 4-month-old baby with her husband’s mother.

“We don’t know where they are and how they have been,” Ah Mar Nyunt Kyaw Min Yu’s mother said by telephone, adding that her house had been searched several times.

Kyaw Min Yu is a prominent leader of the 88 Generation Students, the group that has been most active in holding nonviolent anti-government protests. Most of its top members were arrested on Aug. 21, two days after the latest round of demonstrations began.

Near-daily protests that drew hundreds to the streets earlier this month have dwindled to nearly nothing this week in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, following the government crackdown.

However, 20 people staged a march Thursday in Kyaukpadaung, about 460 kilometers (285 miles) northwest of Yangon, activists said. The protesters were jeered by a pro-junta mob, and their leaders were ushered into a meeting with the township chairman, who advised them of a ban on gatherings of more than five people before letting them go.

A U.N. official, who spoke on condition of an anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said the persistence of the protests very rare in Myanmar is a sign of frustration with the country’s rulers.

“The fact that the protests are lasting so long, despite active implementation of a hard-line approach to opposition, show how much frustration there is,” the official said.

“Many people are sympathetic but not participating because they still remember the brutal suppression in 1988.”

In 1988, public protests over rising rice prices were a prelude to a burst of major demonstrations that were violently subdued by the army. The current protests are nowhere near their scale. The junta held general elections in 1990, but refused to honor the results when the party led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi won.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, has been under extended house arrest.