Warsaw — Polish authorities have avoided an embarrassing challenge from Lech Walesa - with minimal restraints on the former Solidarity leader.
Mr. Walesa had planned to address a public meeting Dec. 16 commemorating the workers who fell during the food riots of 1970. A prepared text of his speech concluded with a call for ''open'' (presumably rather than underground) pursuit of Solidarity's original aims and conciliatory recognition of Polish political options.
Officials appear to have sidestepped embarrassment by whisking him from his home to a local government department some hours before his planned appearance at the memorial outside the Gdansk shipyard.
In mid-afternoon, when the time for the meeting had passed and the afternoon shift had already gone into the yard, a spokesman for the Gdansk police told Western reporters Mr. Walesa was ''free.'' Asked if he had been detained or arrested, the spokesman said: ''Absolutely not.''
Late Thursday evening in Poland, however, Walesa had not returned home, his wife Danuta told Western newsmen. Mr. Walesa failed to show up for a memorial mass or the meeting. Mrs. Walesa, asked about her husbands whereabouts, replied, ''He still is not home but I do not wish to talk more about it.''
From early morning the big block in a Gdansk housing estate where the Walesa family lives was effectively sealed off by police, with checkpoints at all entries to the estate to keep all but residents out.
Western TV cameramen and journalists from Warsaw were unable to approach the area. Later some 50 were taken to a nearby police station and kept there for an hour.
The subsequent statement by a police spokesman left open the question of why Walesa was taken from his home. But Polish radio said later that he had been called to the office of the Local People's Council to answer questions related to the finances of the Gdansk branch of Solidarity.
The union's funds, along with all its files, were seized by the police when martial law was imposed a year ago. Mr. Walesa had been summoned to the office the previous day but had ignored the call.
In Warsaw, the government press office said there had been ''no change'' in Walesa's situation vis-a-vis the authorities. He is described as a private citizen who would be proceeded against just the same as any other citizen who contravened the emergency regulations.
An evening broadcast by the Polish state radio spoke of a day of ''undisturbed work'' despite the anniversary and expectations of Walesa's first public appearance since his release from internment a month ago.
Following the mass, however, several hundred people began a march to the shipyard memorail where Walesa had planned to speak. But they were turned back and dispersed in a charge by riot police using concussion grenades.
There was another incident, on a smaller scale, in the afternoon when teargas was used to break up groups of workers shouting Solidarity slogans near the railway station.
Since martial law was imposed Dec. 13 of last year, public gatherings have been prohibited without special authorization. Mr. Walesa had not requested official permission, his close friend and parish priest, the Rev. Henryk Jankowski, said.
[Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Poland began jamming all British radio transmissions in Polish Dec. 16. Attempts were being made to blot out all broadcasts in Polish.]