Mon, May 08, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Tens of thousands march against Polish government

AFP, WARSAW

Tens of thousands of people on Saturday demonstrated in Warsaw against the Polish government, saying the rule of law was at stake following a slew of controversial reforms and appointments to public broadcasters.

The protest — called by the country’s main liberal opposition party — came shortly after an opinion poll showed it pulling ahead of the right-wing nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government.

Since winning the October 2015 elections, the PiS has pushed through a string of changes that have led to mass protests at home and a threat of EU sanctions.

Supporters of Civic Platform (PO) on Saturday flooded into the capital, calling the protest a “freedom march,” with many carrying Polish and EU flags.

“I’m afraid that the European Union will fall apart — there’s already Brexit, and there’s a risk that if Poland doesn’t respect democracy and the rule of law it could be thrown out of the EU,” said Anna Szadkowska, who marched wrapped up in an EU flag.

“It could all lead to a new war in Europe,” she added.

“[PiS chairman Jaroslaw] Kaczynski says Poland is a free country and that nothing threatens that freedom. This isn’t true and we know it. We want a democratic, pro-European and proud Poland that seeks partners and friends in the European Union, not enemies,” PO leader Grzegorz Schetyna told the crowd.

Kaczynski, who is regarded as Poland’s de facto decisionmaker despite holding no senior government post, rejected the accusations.

“We have democracy, everyone can believe what they want, everyone can protest, everyone can vote how they like, everyone can write what they like,” Kaczynski said during a visit to a shipyard in Szczecin in the country’s north.

Local government officials allied with the organizers said the march drew 90,000 people, while police put the number at 12,000.

Reporters on site estimated 50,000 marchers.

PO members accuse Kaczynski’s government of using its “good change” policy to undermine the independence of the Polish Constitutional Court and other public institutions.

The PiS, which swept to power by playing on fears of a refugee influx, has come under scrutiny for installing loyalists as directors in state-controlled enterprises.

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