Burma's president lifted martial law Wednesday and said the ruling party would consider letting the people decide whether to return to multiparty democracy, state radio reported.

"General elections will be held as soon as possible" if the people vote for a multiparty system in a referendum, said President Maung Maung.Hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters marched through Rangoon, Burma's capital, a Western diplomat and news reports said. It was the third straight day of mass protest against Burma's one-party government and the largest since military rule was imposed in 1962.

Maung Maung said the Burma Socialist Program Party would meet Sept. 12 to consider holding a referendum on multiparty rule, Radio Rangoon reported in a broadcast monitored in Bangkok.

He said he and the 13 other members of the Central Executive Committee would step down if the party decided not to hold the referendum.

If the party does agree to put the issue to the people, Parliament would amend the Constitution at an emergency session the next day to pave the way for holding the referendum, the radio said.

Longtime strongman Ne Win, who toppled the elected government in 1962 and instituted authoritarian rule, proposed a referendum on multiparty rule in a speech to the party at an emergency session when he resigned July 23.

Two days later, the proposal was rejected by party members who were "attached to the one-party system," Maung Maung said Wednesday.

The Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday's demonstration "attracted from several hundred thousand to up to 1 million" people in Rangoon, a city of 3.5 million.

"They were marching and chanting "Down with Socialism!" and "We Want Democracy!" he said.

Radio Rangoon said Maung Maung signed decrees lifting martial law in Rangoon and in Prome, a town 150 miles north of the capital.