Anti-government protesters scattered into hiding Friday to dodge arrest after a wave of protests over higher prices, as the military government wrapped up its work to draft guidelines for a new constitution.

The military government has detained scores of activists and is employing menacing gangs of hired civilian toughs to keep watch in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, to snuff out protests that began Aug. 19 over higher fuel and consumer goods prices.

In 1988, public protests over rising rice prices were a prelude to a burst of major demonstrations, violently subdued by the army, that sought an end to military rule that began in 1962. The current junta suspended a 1974 charter when it took power.

The current protests are nowhere near the scale of the 1988 protests.

Only one small protest was reported Friday, in the town of Taunggok in Rakhine State, west of Yangon. The Web site of the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based opposition shortwave radio station, said two men, Ko Sithu and Ko Than Lwin, held up protest signs at a marketplace.

The report, which could not be independently confirmed, said a soldier punched Ko Sithu and that both protesters were arrested.

Although the protests appear to be losing steam, activists remained defiant.

“I want to implore the people to join hands with us in our movement who have sacrificed our lives and freedom for the good of the people and the country,” said Su Su Nway, who is active in labor issues.

The government has ordered neighborhood officials and hotels to be on the lookout for key pro-democracy activists, providing photos and information about them, said a local official who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.

The list of dissidents includes at least one member of the 88 Generation Students group, the most active in carrying out nonviolent anti-government protests. Most of its top members were arrested Aug. 21, two days after the first of the current round of protests.

About a dozen of the group’s leaders were reported by state media to be held on charges relating to alleged disruption of the constitutional convention, for which they could face up to 20 years in prison.

Su Su Nway is not on the wanted list, but said she has gone into hiding for fear of being detained. Despite being a former political prisoner, she has repeatedly taken part in anti-government protests.

President Bush has urged Myanmar’s government to heed international calls to release the activists and stop intimidating citizens who are promoting democracy and human rights.

Laura Bush telephoned U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday to urge him to condemn the junta’s treatment of dissidents and to press for the Security Council to prevent more violence in Myanmar. A statement released by her office said, “Mrs. Bush noted that by staying quiet, the United Nations and all nations condone these abuses.”

The State Department has said U.S. officials will work to raise the subject of Myanmar at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September.

The new constitution is the first stage of a so-called road map supposed to lead to elections sometime in the future. Critics say the proceedings are a sham because the junta hand-picked most of the delegates and because pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest and cannot attend.

A delegate representing the country’s intellectuals said the convention would officially close Monday. He asked not to be named because he was not authorized to release information about the meeting. Details of its work have not been made public.

Some critics say the finished document is not likely to usher in promised democratic reforms or protect the rights of minority groups. Other critics say the whole process has been a stalling strategy to prolong the junta’s grip on power.

The next stage in the seven-step road map is supposed to be the drafting of the actual constitution, but it is still not clear who will be entrusted with the task. The document would then be submitted to a national referendum.