Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Poles protest with large rally in Warsaw

Published:Sunday | May 7, 2017 | 5:00 AM
Young people carry flags and balloons during the yearly Schumann Parade supporting European Union ideas, in Warsaw, Poland, yesterday*

WARSAW (AP):

Thousands of Poles marched through Warsaw yesterday to protest the policies of the populist ruling party under Jaroslaw Kaczynski, describing them as attacks on the country's democracy.

This came even as a yearly pro-EU parade called the Schumann Parade took place in Warsaw.

Speakers at the 'March of Freedom' said the government under the conservative Law and Justice party has eroded the independence of Poland's courts and other institutions to such an extent that the country would not be accepted into the European Union or NATO today if it didn't already belong.

"We will not allow Kaczynski to take us out of Western Europe. Together we will defend freedom," said Jacek Jaskowiak, the mayor of Poznan, a city in western Poland.

The event was organised by the opposition Civic Platform party, but other opposition parties and the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, a civic organisation, also took part.

They are concerned about how Law and Justice has consolidated power since taking office in 2015. The party has eroded the independence of the courts and the public media in a way that has also alarmed the EU.

Kaczynski said yesterday that the protesters were misguided.

"Freedom exists in Poland and only those who do not perceive reality can question that," he said.

City Hall, which is under the control of Civic Platform, estimated that 90,000 people took part in the protest. The police, under the government's command, put the number at 12,000.

Either way, it was much smaller than the 240,000 who protested against the government in May 2016.