Thousands rally against Polish government in Warsaw (VIDEOS, PHOTOS)
Thousands of people have taken to the streets of the Polish capital Warsaw to express discontent with the policies of the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS).
The rally, dubbed “March of Freedom,” was organized by the major opposition Civic Platform Party but was also attended by members of other opposition parties as well as activists of the Committee for the Defense of Democracy (COD) movement.
Some 50,000 people took part in the protest according to estimates by the Civic Platform controlled City Hall, while police put the number of demonstrators at 9,000.
The protesters gathered at Bank Square in the center of Warsaw and then moved through the city to Constitution Square.
The demonstrators were carrying Polish and EU flags while holding banners that read “Rule of Law.”
Some marchers also donned red baseball caps emblazoned with the slogan “Make Law & Justice small again,” in reference to the Polish ruling party. The protesters were also chanting “Free European Poland” and “Poland is here” slogans.
Opposition leaders accused the government of violating democratic standards as well as limiting people’s freedoms and taking Poland away from the rest of Europe.
Grzegorz Schetyna, the chairman of the Civic Platform, said the current policy of the government would lead to the erosion of freedoms and encourage an authoritarian rule.
“We won’t let them take freedom away from us,” he told the demonstrators at Bank Square.He also pledged to win the next elections.
He went on to say that the PiS government had already eroded the democratic foundations of the Polish political system to such an extent that Poland would not be accepted into the EU and NATO if it tried to join the two blocs now, AP reports.
Schetyna was supported by some other opposition politicians and public officials. "We will not allow Kaczynski to take us out of Western Europe. Together we will defend freedom," Jacek Jaskowiak, the mayor of the western Polish city of Poznan, said during the rally, referring to Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the PiS leader.
Kaczynski responded by saying that the protesters are out of touch with reality. "Freedom exists in Poland and only those who do not perceive reality can question that," he said, as cited by AP.
"Today we do have freedom and by taking part in this march and claiming that today freedom is at stake, as a matter of fact, you are marching (in the name of) the opposite," Kaczynski said during a visit to a shipyard in the Polish northern city-port of Szczecin, Reuters reports.
The PiS party has faced significant public opposition since it came to power in 2015. It is accused of undermining democratic checks and balances and limiting the freedom of the media. Following its rise to power, PiS implemented swift reforms, including the overhaul of the country's top court.
The reforms provoked a wave of public discontent and led to a number of massive protests. One of the largest rallies was held in May 2016 as some 240,000 people took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the political situation.
The actions of the Polish government also provoked concerns in the EU. The European parliament even considered stripping Poland of its voting rights within the union in December 2016. Now, the European Commission is expected to present a report on the situation in Poland at a meeting on May 16.