An estimated 50,000 Poles have protested in Warsaw against the new conservative government's bid to appoint loyal judges to Poland's constitutional court. Similar marches were held in other Polish cities.
Protestors in Warsaw walked from the court's building to the presidential palace, accusing President Andrzej Duda of breaking the law through his refusal to inaugurate three judges nominated by the previous liberal government.
The new government led by the eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) followed its landslide in October by appointing five replacement judges without awaiting legal appeals, saying the move would rebalance power in the 15-member panel.
Duda is an ally of the new government. PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski recently said the existing court was a "stronghold of everything that's wrong with Poland."
Poland's new Pime Minister Beata Szydlo said: "we are only fixing the law."
Saturday's marches were organized by a new Polish group calling itself the Committee for the Defense of Democracy and were attended by members of opposition parties and non-partisan organizations.
Protestors waved Polish and European Union flags, chanting "This is Warsaw, not Budapest," a reference to the hard-line tactics of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
"Today, it's an assault on the constitutional court, tomorrow, it could be an assault on our freedom," said Ryszard Petru, a former World Bank economist.
Petru now leads the pro-market Modern party, Poland's fourth parliamentary force.
Half see democracy threatened
An opinion poll conducted for public television showed that just over half of Poles believe democracy is under threat.
Critics say Kaczynski wants control of Poland's constitutional court to implement the PiS' arch conservative political agenda, including retirement reforms and curbs on foreign ownership of banks.
The ruling party plans a march for Sunday in Warsaw to mark the 34th anniversary of martial law, which then-communist authorities imposed on Poland's Solidarity freedom movement.
ipj/bw (AP, dpa, Reuters)