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Poland opposition stages major anti-government protest

June 4, 2023

An estimated half a million people turned out to mark Poland's transition to democracy more than three decades ago. Former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa spoke at the demonstration, as did ex-Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Protester marching in Warsaw, Poland
Organizers estimated that half a million people turned out in the Polish capital Image: Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photo/picture alliance

Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Warsaw on Sunday to mark the 34th anniversary of Poland's first postwar democratic election in 1989.

But the rally, led by the Civic Forum opposition group, was also a protest against the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), which critics accuse of leading Poland down a path of autocracy.

Some demonstrators carried placards reading "Europe, we apologize for the PiS" and "PiS into the pissoir."

Lech Walesa, Poland's first-ever president elected by popular vote, former leader of the Solidarity trade union and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, addressed protesters.

"Mr. Kaczynski, we have come to get you. The day has finally arrived," Walesa said, referring to PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The local government — itself controlled by the Civic Forum — estimated that half a million protesters showed up in Warsaw on Sunday.

Hundreds of thousands protest Poland's right-wing government

Tusk: 'The giant has woken up'

Walesa was joined on stage by former prime minister and former European Council chief Donald Tusk, who now leads the centrist opposition party Civic Platform.

Tusk was recently at risk of being barred from office after President Andrzej Duda attempted to pass a law to investigate alleged Russian influence — a law that critics said was vague and designed to attack the opposition. Duda has since promised amendments that would rein in aspects of the law.

Lech Walesa and Donald Tusk holding hands in the air
Lech Walesa and Donald Tusk both addressed the protestersImage: Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photo/picture alliance

"This wave will not be stopped, that giant has woken up, I'm proud that I can be here and say we will win!" Tusk told demonstrators on Sunday.

He said the opposition's present role is "of comparable importance" to Solidarity's fight against communism in the 1980s.

zc/nm (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)