updated 10/21/2007 8:01:15 PM ET 2007-10-22T00:01:15

Myanmar's military rulers on Saturday lifted a curfew and ended a ban on assembly, which were imposed last month during a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

The relaxing of restrictions imposed Sept. 25 was announced from government vehicles driven through the streets of Myanmar's largest city, Yangon.

"The curfew and ban on assembly has been revoked effective today, because security and stability has improved," according to the announcement issued from a speaker atop one of the vehicles.

It was not immediately clear if the restrictions were also lifted in Mandalay, another major city and focus of last month's anti-government demonstrations.

The lifting of the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and ban on gatherings of more than five people indicates the junta believes it has stamped out a massive pro-democracy uprising that was sparked in August by public anger at a sharp rise in fuel prices. Small protests quickly grew into anti-government demonstrations tens of thousands of people strong and spearheaded by legions of the country's respected monks.

It was the largest showing of dissent in the tightly controlled state in nearly two decades.

The junta responded to the growing threat by detaining thousands of demonstrators and shooting into the crowds, killing as many as 10. Diplomats and activists say the death toll is much higher.

Since the crackdown, authorities in Myanmar have attempted to apply a softer touch. They have cleared the streets of soldiers and released some prominent activists.

‘Utter devastation’
In Washington, White House press secretary Dana Perino said Saturday's announcement was "a bad sign that the regime now feels confident that it has cleared the monasteries of dissidents by either jailing them or sending them to their home villages, and arrested all the major players in the demonstrations and sent into hiding or exile those they have not captured."

Perino urged the junta to enter talks with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and invite U.N. Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari to return. "What we need are signs of serious intent to move toward a democratic transition."

The junta has also been intensifying efforts to arrange talks with Suu Kyi, issuing an unusual plea in state media Saturday for her to compromise in a bid for national reconciliation.

The government announced earlier this month that military leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe was willing to meet with the Nobel Peace Prize winner, but only if she meets certain conditions including renouncing support for foreign countries' economic sanctions targeting the impoverished nation.

It was still unclear if Suu Kyi would accept the offer to meet with Than Shwe. The junta has also urged her to give up her support for "confrontation" and "utter devastation" — an apparent reference to the recent protests.

The regime accuses Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party of working with other nations to sabotage the junta's own plans for a phased return to democracy.

Than Shwe has only met with Suu Kyi once before, in 2002. The talks quickly broke down.

In a lengthy commentary, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the time was right for Suu Kyi to respond positively to the offer of talks "with a view to serving the interest of all."

"We are tired of watching a stalemate ... we should not go on like this forever," the commentary said. "There should be some forms of compromise. If one side makes a concession, the other side should do so. The situation will get worse if both sides are arrogantly intransigent, refusing to budge from their stand."

The views in the commentary are believed to represent those of the junta.

‘We must not turn a deaf ear’
Gambari also met with the junta leader in Myanmar early this month, as well as twice with Suu Kyi. But he has failed to bring about a dialogue between the two sides.

Myanmar's repressive regime has repeatedly rebuffed the world's calls for democratic reforms, saying it will follow its own seven-step road map to democracy that is supposed to culminate in a general election.

While Gambari has been working toward a dialogue, the United States and other governments have stepped up pressure on the regime by tightening sanctions.

President Bush announced Friday that Washington would expand sanctions imposed last month to punish the military-run government and its backers for the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

Bush ordered the Treasury Department to freeze the U.S. assets of additional members of Myanmar's ruling junta, and tightened controls on American exports to the country. He also urged China and India to do more to pressure the government of neighboring Myanmar, also known as Burma.

"The people of Burma are showing great courage in the face of immense repression," Bush said at the White House. "They are appealing for our help. We must not turn a deaf ear to their cries."

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