Protesters chanting for ``dialogue,'' ``freedom,'' and ``democracy'' here Saturday were met by club-wielding riot police who dispersed a crowd of more than 5,000 from Wenceslas Square. According to official reports yesterday, 355 demonstrators were arrested.
The demonstrations held on the 71st anniversary of the Czechoslovakia's independence took place in spite of warnings from the regime that such protests would be illegal. The state-run television Saturday accused ``antisocialist forces supported by Western media for staging a provocative demonstration aimed at confrontation.''
The demonstrations took place a few hours after a military swearing-in ceremony of new recruits on the same square.
Exactly at 3:00 p.m., a young man placed a wreath at the foot of the statue of St. Wenceslas. When the police tried to arrest him, the protests broke out.
``Let him go, let him go,'' the crowd immediately started to shout and closed in on the police and the youth. The shouts soon became ``freedom, freedom'' and Czechoslovak flags were raised in the air. Some started to sing the Czechoslovak national anthem and thousands raised their hands in a ``V'' for victory sign.
When the young man was let go, the crowd cheered and called out, ``We want democracy.'' A banner saying ``Truth is winning'' was unfolded and held up in the air.
The police moved in on the square from all sides, warning the crowd and pushing them off the square while arresting many and hauling them off in buses. An hour later, the square was empty, but small confrontations continued well into the evening in the narrow back streets surrounding the square.
Seen in the perspective of recent massive demonstrations in Eastern Europe, the protests here Saturday were small. But the fact that they took place was proof of simmering discontent toward the nation's hard-line communist regime. Many people have grown frustrated at seeing dramatic changes in neighboring Hungary, Poland, and East Germany.