MOSCOW, DEC. 6 -- A presummit demonstration called to protest Soviet emigration policy was forcibly disrupted in front of the Soviet Foreign Ministry today as bands of young men pushed and shoved "refusenik" protesters and western journalists, in some cases deliberately damaging television equipment.
Peter Arnett, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and Moscow correspondent for the American Cable News Network, was dragged off the triangular park at Smolensky Square and taken in a bus to a police station where he was held for four hours. Members of the CNN crew said their microphone cables were yanked loose twice and a producer for CBS television said the power cable on their camera was detached several times by expert hands.
Employing a tactic used at other human rights demonstrations here, authorities overwhelmed the unofficial protest with a hastily arranged "peace" rally in support of the Kremlin's disarmament policies and this week's summit meeting between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan.
The crowd of "peace" demonstrators was heavily dominated by groups of young men -- assumed to be plainclothed security forces -- who paid little attention to the oratory booming from a platform truck, but instead focused on challenging the handful of protesters whom they called "provocateurs" and "traitors" trying to "spoil the summit."
Scenes from the protest were shown tonight on Soviet television where a commentator accused the protesters of putting their personal interests ahead of the country's.
The planned demonstration by about 100 refuseniks -- people denied permission to emigrate -- had been timed to the eve of Gorbachev's departure to draw attention to the Kremlin's restrictive policy on emigration. According to organizers, more than two dozen participants never made it to the square, many of them being detained by militia outside their homes or en route. Two people were seen being bundled by uniformed police into an unmarked white car and driven away.
The rough treatment of refuseniks, many of them Jews who want to emigrate to Israel, and western journalists was a side effect of what was apparently the authorities' main goal -- to stop any presummit protest, or at least its coverage by western television. As several bystanders today noted, an antigovernment demonstration on the eve of a major event is seen here as an affront that should not be tolerated.
The fact that the Moscow demonstration was being held at the same time as a rally for Jewish emigration in Washington may have further hardened resistance, since it made the event an international matter. The impact on world opinion of such heavy-handed police behavior was apparently overlooked.
Ever since Moscow adopted regulations limiting demonstrations in the city center, police and the KGB have been cracking down on unofficial protests in the capital. As in other cases recently, no overt violence was used today, but security police outnumbered protesters by more than 10 to l.
The refuseniks' demonstration was illegal since organizers did not apply for permission under new regulations that went into effect in central Moscow this summer.
In Leningrad, Lev Furman, a 40-year-old refusenik who briefly unfurled a banner on the historic Palace Square at 2 p.m. today, was arrested and immediately given a 10-day sentence, according to his wife Marina, who also participated in the protest.
In Moscow, refuseniks who were able to arrive before noon -- estimated by organizers to number 70 -- were quickly drowned out by the Soviet peace committee. The committee sponsored a massive downtown demonstration yesterday in support of the summit.
Five busloads of official demonstrators arrived at the park before noon, including an estimated 200 plainsclothesmen, who mingled in the crowd wearing placards for "peace," "a nuclear-free world" and "U.S.-Soviet talks."
Several of the men were identified by participants as undercover officers who have broken up other Moscow demonstrations. They moved systematically to break up any gathering by the refuseniks, forming a cordon around the group and silently jostling and pressing in on the captive crowd. When refuseniks attempted to unfurl banners -- one had a picture of Gorbachev and another the words, "Let us leave for Israel" -- the banners were immediately seized and ripped by the plainclothesmen.
The men also tried to steer western reporters and camera crews away from the refusenik protesters by holding up peace banners in front of television cameras, sometimes using them to jostle the cameramen. Ben Coyte, a cameraman for CNN, said he watched as people twice yanked the cord off his microphone. An NBC cameraman was struck in the face.
It has long been a practice of Soviet security police to attack western television cameras, smashing or kicking lenses, resulting in thousands of dollars in damages. But since February, power cables linking cameras to recorders have been cut swiftly and deftly, causing the same effect with less disruption and violence.
Arnett said that after he was detained and taken to a local volunteer police station, a plainclothesman wrote out a complaint accusing Arnett of hitting him on the head with a microphone.
The complaint, signed by nine witnesses, was denied by Arnett, who said that in the melee, he did push people aside to make room for his crew.