MOSCOW — In a turnabout today, police permitted about 100 refuseniks demanding the right to leave the Soviet Union to conduct a 40-minute demonstration on the steps of the Lenin Library.
Several participants said the demonstration, held in 7-degree weather, was the largest Jewish protest in the Soviet capital in years. Police and plainclothes agents watched from a distance as the protesters chanted, "Solidarity! Solidarity!" and waved banners urging that they be permitted to emigrate.
One of the 20 International Helsinki Federation representatives in Moscow to discuss Soviet human rights abuses attended the rally. The federation is an independent group set up in 1979 to monitor Soviet compliance with the 1975 Helsinki agreements on human rights.
Normally, demonstrations are broken up by police within minutes, and often would-be protesters are detained at their homes before scheduled protests. Police were ordered to get tough with unsanctioned public demonstrations after an embarrassing two-day sit-in by 300 ethnic Crimean Tatars in Red Square last July.
When asked why no action was taken today, a uniformed policeman said: "Our orders are to watch. Otherwise we have no orders."