Police intercepted former Solidarity chairman Lech Walesa last night as he headed for a meeting here with a senior Roman Catholic Church official, put him in a police car and drove him 225 miles back to his home in Gdansk where his phone was cut today. A source in that northern port city reported that police were posted in the stairwell of Walesa's apartment building.
Several aides to Walesa who had accompanied him to Warsaw yesterday afternoon were jailed, and a number of top advisers to the banned Solidarity union were also detained after a meeting in Warsaw at which Walesa and representatives of other outlawed unions reportedly drafted a letter to the Sejm, or legislature.
Among the advisers detained last night were former union newspaper editor Tadeusz Mazowiecki, former senior adviser Bronislaw Geremek and two prominent civil rights lawyers, Wladyslaw Sila-Nowicki and Jan Olszewski.
The flurry of police action followed a turbulent week that saw the most serious street clashes between Solidarity supporters and riot police this year and a hardening of the Communist government's position against appeals for leniency by the Roman Catholic Church.
It also came on the eve of the opening of a three-day national founding congress of the Patriotic Movement for National Rebirth, a sort of good citizens' action organization intended to become the new platform for political debate between Communist Party and nonparty members and a sanctioned channel for social initiatives.
Addressing the movement's 1,900 delegates today in a spacious Warsaw congress hall, Polish leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski gave a personal assurance that the planned visit of Pope John Paul II would take place in June despite what he termed "various deliberately fanned speculations" to the contrary. At the same time, he made improved church-state relations dependent on church respect for state authority and noted "there are many serious problems ahead of us" in this field.
The Roman Catholic episcopate has declined to take an active part in the new social movement. The church, along with many young people and former Solidarity activists, views it skeptically. This week the bishops delivered a renewed appeal for the complete lifting of martial law and for an amnesty for political prisoners, although the government has made clear it is not yet ready to take such steps.
Blaming this delay on unrest caused by opposition activities and what he described as the "aggressive forces of world imperialism and their domestic agencies in Poland," Jaruzelski remarked: "A button is pushed in Washington and stones get thrown in the streets of Poland."
The seizure of Walesa occurred as the former union chief was headed for an 11 p.m. meeting at the headquarters of the episcopate with the Rev. Alojzy Orszulik, the main church spokesman, according to a source close to the banned union. Police picked him up within a few yards of the headquarters building, the source said.
Walesa's aides kept in detention in Warsaw last night were Jacek Merkel, Lescek Kaczynski and Arkadius Rybicki, his spokesman Adam Kinawzewski and driver Mieczyslaw Wachowski.
Union advisers Mazowiecki and Geremek spent most of last year in martial-law internment and have played no overt political role since their release in December.
The meeting Walesa attended yesterday was said to have included a number of other well-known activists of former unions and associations, being more broad-based than a previous session he had participated in last March. The text of the letter that was reportedly drafted at the meeting was not immediately available. Nor could a direct connection between the meeting and the police roundup be determined.
But the detentions coincided with another wave of official attacks against Walesa last week. The Warsaw daily Zycie Warszawy carried excerpts of an alleged conversation, apparently tape recorded, between Walesa, while he was interned last year, and his brother. The union leader complained that the church had exploited the gains of the period when Solidarity was functioning legally. A transcript of the conversation has been circulated privately among a wide range of people for weeks, evidently to discredit Walesa.
Walesa's plea for new talks with Polish authorities was firmly rejected Tuesday by a government spokesman.
Speaking of the pope's scheduled visit, Jaruzelski said he expected it "to contribute to the reconciliation and accord so vitally necessary to our nation today." He said state cooperation with the church was not just "a temporary tactical necessity" but indicated it also depended on certain conditions.
"The more deeply the church sees the socialist state as the embodiment of the higher national interests," the Polish leader stated, "the greater the bilateral benefits of this cooperation can be."
Reflecting the government's irritation with some activist priests, Jaruzelski added: "Those of the clergy who, under the influence of unbridled anticommunism or superficial emotions, act in a way which is damaging to domestic peace also damage the long-term interests of the church."