BEIJING (AP) _ About 300 soldiers marched in formation near student-occupied Tiananmen Square Thursday as conservative leaders turned up the heat in their campaign against the pro-democracy movement.

The government's show of force was the first of its kind near Tiananmen since a sit-in for a freer society with less corruption began May 13.

The troopers from the People's Liberation Army marched in front of the Beijing Hotel near Tiananmen about 6:30 a.m. and turned down a side street.

It was not clear how many of the thousands of students camped in the square saw the procession.

''I think they were just sent to try and scare us,'' said Wang Di, a sophomore at Beijing Journalism Institute, who saw the troops pass by. ''But I didn't think anyone was scared. They didn't come that close and not many students knew they were there.''

The government Wednesday held its first rally in response to six weeks of pro-democracy protests. But a torched effigy of China's most famous dissident and slogans supporting Premier Li Peng's hard-line policies failed to rouse the 4,000 people who attended the rally 20 miles outside Beijing.

Many participants said officials told them to attend.

Thousands of noisy marchers, meanwhile, trooped from Tiananmen to police and Communist Party headquarters Wednesday night to demand the resignation of Li and senior leader Deng Xiaoping, who have led the crackdown on the popular uprising for democracy.

Conservatives are trying to discredit the student movement and consolidate their position in a political power struggle with moderates.

The marchers, primarily students, beat drums, pots and pans, and chanted ''Down with kidnapping 3/8'' to protest the arrest this week of three leaders of an independent labor union.

Zhao Pinglu, head of the trade union that was formed in sympathy with the pro-democracy movement, said the men were released Wednesday after police questioned them for a day.

The government rally at a stadium in Daxing county was staged by supporters of conservative leaders who reportedly have stripped moderate Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang of his post.

''We will oppose whoever opposes Li Peng,'' read one banner. Others supported martial law for central Beijing, decreed by Li on May 20 after more than 1 million people took to the streets to demand more democracy and an end to corruption among officials.

The government rally, attended by peasants, workers and high school students, lacked the enthusiasm of the pro-democracy demonstrations that have been mounted in major cities.

The burning of effigies of astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, an outspoken dissident who has campaigned for democracy, and an unidentified ''schemer,'' an apparent reference to Zhao, failed to stir the listless crowd.

Few people joined rally leaders in shouting ''long live the Communist Party'' and other slogans. Some giggled and others waved tiny flags instead.

''I think this is a sham,'' said a 26-year-old worker shortly after the rally ended. ''As a citizen, I feel very indignant.''

''That's right,'' said onlookers.

''To tell you the truth, we were forced to come,'' said an 18-year-old high school student.

Zhou Hong, a county official who organized the rally, said the demonstration was to ''oppose turmoil'' created by a ''small group of people'' for political goals.

Beijing officials informed some foreign journalists Tuesday of the Daxing march and two others in suburban Beijing. Nationwide TV broadcast a brief segment of one of the marches during the evening news.

Large banners bearing slogans opposing ''bourgeois liberalization'' and capitalism over socialism appeared on Beijing hotels on Wednesday.

Fang and a handful of other intellectuals were purged from the party in the anti-bourgeois liberalization campaign of 1987, which began after the last round of student-led protests for democracy.

But diplomatic and Chinese sources say a meeting of the party Central Committee to ratify the purge of Zhao has been postponed because the leadership remains divided.

Sources say at least 200,000 military troops called to Beijing to enforce martial law also are pawns in the power struggle going on at the top levels.

Tens of thousands of citizens mobilized to block troops from entering Beijing after Li declared martial law.

The march through central Beijing Wednesday night was much smaller than other pro-democracy demonstrations of the past few weeks, highlighting the difficulties faced by the students to keep their movement alive despite continued government pressure.

The government maintained a media blitz condemning the occupation of Tiananmen Square in central Beijing, where about 10,000 students live in squatter camps to press their demands.