Tatyana Perekatova was awakened before dawn by a phone call from inside the theater.

Her cousin Nathalie Skoptsova, a 30-year-old translator-typist, was begging for help, asking her to gather her family and friends -- and anyone else who would listen. They should go to Red Square to rally in support of the Chechen rebels who were holding her hostage, Skoptsova told her cousin.

"They told us our chances are slim, but they would be better if you do this," Skoptsova said. "Please go."

Perekatova promised she would, little expecting that by the end of the day, she would end up, briefly, a captive, held by the Russian police for taking part in the protest that her cousin begged her to attend.

For Perekatova and other relatives of the hostages, today was a lesson in frustration. Not only were they increasingly fearful for their loved ones' safety, they also found themselves colliding with Russian officials, from President Vladimir Putin down, who strenuously warned the families against unsanctioned protests.

Perekatova went anyway, showing up a few hours later at the small Red Square rally with Skoptsova's brother, brother-in-law and friend, picket signs in hand.

She paid for her defiance when, at about 2 p.m., she and Skoptsova's boyfriend, Alexei Sevastianenko, were grabbed out of the crowd, put inside a van by armed officers and detained for half an hour at the ornate yellow police station near the Kremlin for reasons she says no one explained to them.

When the two immediately began calling other relatives, friends and reporters on their cell phone to tell them what was happening, she said later, the police roughly told her to "shut up."

Police took away their national identity cards, searched Sevastianenko's backpack and abandoned them in a corridor for about half an hour -- until a well-known local television anchor marched in to the office demanding to know why Perekatova and Sevastianenko had been taken away. They were released within minutes.

A spokeswoman for the Moscow police, Irina Perfilova, described the incident as a misunderstanding. She said that everyone who attended the rally was told that "it wasn't a good idea to hold rallies on the square because this is a very tense and difficult moment." She said that the two were not formally detained and that no record was made of the time they spent in custody. They were not charged with any wrongdoing.

She defended the government's efforts to discourage impromptu crowd gatherings.

To assemble "without an official sanction, especially at this moment, is forbidden precisely because it diverts large forces of police for maintaining public order, which in this current situation the police cannot afford. Now all efforts of the police are directed to liberating the hostages and maintaining calm and preventing any other kinds of terrorist acts," she said.

Perekatova, 36, an editor at a woman's magazine, said she believes she and Sevastianenko were singled out because they were relatives of hostages, and other protesters gathered around them to talk. In addition to Skoptsova, her sister, Yugenia Skoptsova, 39, and Yugenia's twins, Lyona and Lucia, 15, also remained inside the theater.

Perekatova and Sevastianenko say they believe the government is taking the wrong approach to the terrorists. Instead of further angering them, they said, the government should try to appease them in anyway possible, perhaps even by encouraging protests against their own policies and by handing out placards and posters in favor of ending the war.

"If thanks to this rally, only one person comes out, we should all be standing here," said Sevastianenko, 30, an artist from Moscow.

"They just want to save face," Perekatova said of the government's posture. But, she said, "they should support initiatives of people who are suffering and trying to help out their loved ones."

She added, "I don't want to help the terrorists -- that's beyond my thoughts. What I want to do is save people. The government should have never abandoned their peace talks."

Relatives of hostages held by Chechens in a Moscow theater watched as police blocked protesters from joining them.

After relatives of the hostages protested near the theater where the rebels dug in, some passed around petitions urging an end to the war in Chechnya.