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Polish police tolerance crumbles

What had a promising start--like so many episodes in Poland's two years of crisis - had a highly discouraging ending.

Monitor correspondent Eric Bourne reports the officially tolerated, unofficial May Day demonstration in support of the suspended Solidarity union Saturday was followed by another May 3 which was harshly suppressed and dispersed by police and security forces.

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The scene for both was Warsaw's Old Town around St. John's Cathedral, where a vast congregation attending a Saturday morning mass merged with a crowd of some 10,000 calling for the return of the union and the freeing of union leader Lech Walesa from internment.

The passivity of the security forces and the way in which the demonstration was allowed to break up by itself prompted speculation of official tolerance because of eagerness to avoid any public confrontation when officials and the Roman Catholic Church are both seen actively engaged in efforts to reduce continued martial law tensions in the national interest.

Sunday, however, the government issued a stern reminder that all public gatherings--including those associated with the churches--are still prohibited without official permission.

On Monday, police and riot troops patrolled the streets of the capital in a strength not seen for some time. By late afternoon an even bigger crowd than Saturday's--between 10,000 and 25,000-strong, according to various accounts - gathered in the Old Square. When police moved in to break it up, scuffles and fights broke out at numerous points, and the police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse crowds--dashing the hopes of moderates that the recent reductions in martial law were an opening of a door toward a more normal situation.

What effect these incidents will have not only on the further dismantling of military rule but, more important, on church attitudes toward the regime's efforts to win its support in moves for a national accord, remains to be seen.

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