Police dragged about a dozen demonstrators from a bustling square Friday but let a milling holiday crowd of more than 1,000 argue about democracy for hours afterward.
“What are you afraid of?” onlookers shouted at police and paramilitary troops who elbowed and shoved their way to a handful of people in Pushkin Square. The demonstrators hoisted small signs calling for freedom and democracy.
Friday was Constitution Day in the Soviet Union, a national holiday. A group called the Democratic Union mounted the protest to demand democratic changes.
Police hauled away a woman carrying a small child after she briefly lifted a sign and began arguing loudly with an elderly man.
“We do have freedom in this country!” the man said.
“Aren’t you ashamed?” she replied, gesturing at the police.
The police moved more gently for the most part, exhorting people to “move on.” After 45 minutes, when the crowd had not responded, the demands softened to “Please move on.”
Arguments sprang up among bystanders, with some complaining and others defending the government. How many in the crowd supported the demonstrators became clear when one raised a protest sign. About 50 of the more than 1,000 onlookers applauded, but the rest merely craned their necks to read the sign.
A police officer said through the loudspeakers repeatedly, “The people’s deputies have ordered there will be no meeting.”
The fledgling Democratic Union’s main objective is to change Article 6 of the constitution, which gives the Communist Party a monopoly on power, said Stanislav Dergunov, a member of the group.