In another sign of limited religious tolerance, a Soviet newspaper urged authorities to accept the "historical reality" that the country has millions of Christian believers and hailed a meeting between government and church officials.

The brief article in Wednesday's edition of the pro-reform weekly Moscow News praised Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for receiving Patriarch Pimen and other Russian Orthodox Church leaders Friday at the Kremlin.Gorbachev told the church officials a law was being drafted on freedom of conscience, which he said would reflect religious interests in the officially atheistic country.

"Ninety minutes was how long they met, maybe not such a long time," the newspaper said. "But the significance of the meeting cannot be measured in the time it lasted."

Diplomats said they could not recall any instance in recent years of a meeting between the government and leaders of churches whose presence in the country has been discouraged by the communist government.

"The meeting with Gorbachev in the Kremlin confirmed a principle of pluralism of opinion that is essential for the development of democracy in society," the Moscow News said.

"The church exists in our society not because some or another leader allows it, but because it and the millions of believers are a historical reality that has to be reckoned with."

The church leaders had expressed a desire to meet Gorbachev before the 1,000th anniversary of Christianity in the Soviet Union next month.

"We hope that in the atmosphere of the development of democratic principles in the life of our society, (authorities) will find a solution favorable to the church and beneficial to the state," Pimen told Gorbachev.