Thousands of young people marched through Burma's capital Monday chanting anti-government slogans and singing the national anthem, diplomats said. Students had called for a nationwide general strike.

Japan's Kyodo News Agency reported 30,000 people took part in protests in Rangoon and more than 10,000 students, Buddhist monks and others staged demonstrations in Mandalay, Burma's second largest city.No violence was reported in what may have been the largest protest in Burma since a democracy was overthrown 26 years ago.

"You couldn't see the end of (the crowd)," said Georgina Allen, a 22-year-old British student who Mondayreturned to Bangkok from Rangoon. She said she saw "solid flanks" of unarmed demonstrators clenching their fists, cheering and clapping their hands as they marched along a main street in Rangoon.

"We're going for democracy. We're fighting for democracy," she quoted one student as saying.

Allen said some Burmese students told her, "We don't want to change the government. We want a socialist government. We hate the president. He's an evil man."

Many shops were closed and there were reports that some workers stayed away from their factory jobs, but other stores were open for business, said Western and Asian diplomats reached by telephone in the capital, Rangoon.

The extent of the strike was not immediately clear.

The demonstrators, most of them wearing handkerchiefs around their faces to avoid identification, walked in orderly fashion in the downtown area and there was no confrontation with troops patrolling the city, the diplomats said.

They said they did not know whether protests took place in other parts of the city or the surrounding area.