Rangoon - Burma's military regime, slapping down a fresh challenge from the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, rounded up scores of her supporters to stop her holding a party congress.
The arrests were the junta's latest attempt to box in Ms Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, since curtailing her political activities and freedom of movement last year.
The congress of her National League for Democracy (NLD) was called to mark the seventh anniversary next week of the election in which her supporters won 82 per cent of the vote. The ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc) refused to relinquish power and parliament never convened.
Amnesty International described 1996 as "the worst year for human rights since the government annulled the elections," and said: "Now the Slorc seems determined to eliminate the party altogether."
Arrests took place in Mandalay, Sagaing and Irrawaddy divisions and Mon State, all far-flung provinces. Some 200 members of the parliament-elect and 100 party organisers were invited to the meeting from around the country. Kyi Maung, NLD vice-chairman, said several members were taking refuge in Ms Suu Kyi's lakeside compound in hopes of avoiding arrest.
The sweep came to light on the day US sanctions banning new investment in Burma went into effect in protest at the military's increased repression. The two events did not appear connected.
Amnesty International urged the Association of South-East Asian Nations to press Burma to improve its rights record. Asean refuses, calling Burma's politics an internal affair. At a meeting next week in Malaysia, Asean is expected to clear the way for Burma to be made a member in July.
Roads have been blocked to Ms Suu Kyi's home for months, ending her popular rallies that attracted as many as 10,000 people. She is not allowed to speak in public and has at times been prevented from leaving her home.
Although diplomats and supporters are occasionally allowed in to see her, aides describe the restrictions on her movements and contacts as virtual house arrest. In November her motorcade was attacked by a government- paid mob wielding sticks, chains and crowbars.
The military has ruled Burma since 1962. Ms Suu Kyi, daughter of the independence hero Aung San, was thrust into prominence by the 1988 uprising against military rule that was crushed when troops killed thousands of protesters.