Tens of thousands flood Warsaw in ‘biggest’ anti-govt, pro-EU protest in decades (VIDEO)

People march during an anti-government demonstration organized by main opposition parties in Warsaw, Poland May 7, 2016. © Kacper Pempel
An anti-government protest in the Polish capital organized by opposition parties under the slogan “We are and will remain in Europe” drew up to 240,000 people on Saturday. A smaller protest against EU meddling in Poland’s domestic affairs was also held.

There have been contradicting reports on the attendance numbers for the march. While police say some 45,000 anti-government demonstrators took to the streets, the Warsaw City Hall has given a much bigger estimate, saying the event gathered around 240,000 protesters. Warsaw’s mayor is among the country’s leading opposition figures.

Waving Polish and EU flags, demonstrators protested against what they claim are violations of democratic and European values committed by Poland’s ruling, right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS). Addressing the crowd, former Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said that the opposition is fighting for “Polish democracy, Poland’s right to function well in the European Union.”

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Emphasizing that EU citizens “share all kinds of privileges,” Komorowski argued that Poland should stand “together [with the EU] in the name of a great idea, whose name is freedom.”

Organized by Poland’s Committee for the Defense of Democracy (KOD) following the 12th anniversary of Poland joining the now 28-member bloc, major opposition parties joined the mass rally, including the Polish People’s Party, the Democratic Left Alliance, and the Civic Platform (PO), Ruptly reported. In his speech, PO leader Grzegorz Schetyna said, “Turning away from Europe is the way to the East. We will not allow it.”

While the massive anti-government crowd marched through the historical part of the city, a counter protest voiced opposition to any interference in Poland’s domestic policies by Brussels. Police said around 4,500 people attended the smaller march, while the Warsaw City Hall put the number at 2,500.

Meanwhile, Poland’s former prime minister and current PiS chairman, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, accused his opponents of obstructing democratic values by refusing to acknowledge his party’s right to govern.

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Those protests show an inability to accept the result of elections,” Kaczynski said during a chat with Facebook users on Saturday, according to the Wall Street Journal. “There is a problem on the part of the political class and, more broadly, the establishment, with accepting the fundamental rule of democracy – that governments can change as a result of elections,” he reportedly added.

Kaczynski’s party has been under fire from the opposition and the EU since the government passed a number of legal amendments last year, including changes to the Constitutional Court. With the Council of Europe saying the reforms undermine the rule of law, in January the European Commission launched an inquiry into the changes to Poland’s Constitutional Court and media laws. The EU executive body has been investigating whether the controversial legislation pushed through by the Law and Justice government violates EU standards.