MOSCOW -- Thousands of heavily armed riot policemen blocked an attempt yesterday by Russian Communists to celebrate their most sacred holiday, Revolution Day, in the streets of Moscow.
Turned away from Red Square and other rallying points with little coercion and few arrests, about 500 Communists withdrew to a snow-blanketed birch forest just north of the city for their party's smallest gathering here on this date since the event it commemorated -- the Bolshevik overthrow of Russia's post-czarist government in 1917.
The Communist retreat from the capital -- and the relatively small and peaceful turnouts at legal rallies elsewhere in Russia -- indicated that President Boris N. Yeltsin will be able to carry out early elections of a new Parliament as planned Dec. 12 without major resistance or boycotts.
Yesterday's demonstrations were the first hard-line challenge to Mr. Yeltsin since he closed the old Communist-dominated Parliament, ordered the early elections and attacked the building with army tanks Oct. 4 to end a rebellion by its leaders.
Fearing an outburst of new violence, the government banned Revolution Day rallies in Moscow for the first time since the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991.
The threat to defy that ban diminished when the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the largest remnant of the party that ruled the Soviet Union for seven decades and the only Communist faction eligible for the coming elections, urged its supporters in Moscow to stay home, fearing that it might be outlawed if there was disorder.
Those who did take to the streets, it turned out, were older and less aggressive than the anti-Yeltsin militants who swarmed through Moscow just five Sundays ago.
At Red Square, where on this day in years past Soviet leaders stood atop Lenin's mausoleum and reviewed the biggest of their parades, policemen and large trucks blocked all but one entrance. Metal detectors screened Muscovites and tourists let in to view Lenin's embalmed body.