Soldiers conducted house-to-house searches for striking engineers who closed the country's largest oil refinery to join other Burmese in work stoppages called to press for democracy, sources said Wednesday.

Scarce gasoline supplies and a five-day-old strike by railroad workers continued to cripple the nation's transportation system, contributing to food shortages, a Western diplomat said.The government has remained silent on the strikers' demands, and spreading violence and disorder have given rise to rumors of an impending military coup. Some observers say the Burma Socialist Program Party is orchestrating the chaos in order to intervene and re-establish itself.

Authorities on Tuesday freed hundreds of inmates from Burmese jails.

Striking employees from more than 120 government departments and state-owned corporations on Tuesday formed a committee to agitate for an end to one-party rule. Their All Services General Strike Committee was the fourth illegal association created in Burma in three days.

Students and dock workers also have formed unions, and 21 elder statesmen, some associated with the last elected government 26 years ago, created a Committee for Democracy.

In addition, citizens have formed committees in an attempt to govern many Burmese cities, which were left without authorities when troops and officials loyal to the embattled government cleared out.

Burma's turmoil began after the July 23 resignation of ruler Ne Win, who ended democracy with a 1962 military coup, established one-party rule and outlawed all other parties, unions and associations.

Thousands of citizens staged protests against Ne Win's hard-line successor, Sein Lwin, and at least 112 people were killed in clashes with security forces.

The violence continued until Sein Lwin resigned and was replaced Aug. 19 by civilian lawyer Maung Maung. Since then, peaceful rallies and widespread strikes demanding an end to one-party rule have continued.